When most people think of asbestos exposure, they think of tradesmen exposed to such materials as pipe insulation and raw asbestos fiber. Although these exposures are real, many people are unaware of a source of asbestos exposure that affected not only tradesmen, but any individual who participated in home improvement projects. The source of asbestos exposure is joint compounds used in the installation and repair of drywall.
Many joint compounds contained asbestos beginning as early as the 1950s and continued to contain asbestos until the late 1970s. What is most troubling about this is that joint compound products were not used solely by tradesmen. These products were used by many home owners and “do-it-your-selfers” on a widespread basis. In fact, many of the companies who manufactured the asbestos-containing joint compounds had a strong advertising push toward this group of users during that same time frame.Asbestos-containing joint compounds were manufactured by numerous companies. The joint compounds commonly came in a dry powder form; although some came in a “pre-mixed” state. The joint compound products came packaged in a variety of ways and in various sizes. Some were packaged in paper bags ranging in size up to 25 pounds while others came in small cardboard boxes or metal buckets.To anyone who has ever worked with joint compound products, the method of exposure is quite simple, but also quite substantial. The first area of exposure is the mixing of the dry powder joint compound with water. Both the dumping of the joint compound powder and the adding of water creates a substantial amount of airborne dust. In new construction, joint compound is then applied between the seams and over nail/screw holes in a series of about three coats, with sanding occurring between each of the three coats to create a smooth surface for painting later on. After each coat dries, the joint compound hardens like cement. When the hardened joint compound is sanded, a tremendous amount of airborne dust is released which exposes not only the individual sanding, but anyone in the general vicinity, including family members if the work is being performed in a home.In the late 1960s, while OSHA was in the planning stages, some of the manufacturers of asbestos-containing joint compounds aggressively pushed to deplete their supply of these compounds before they were “banned” by OSHA. However, when OSHA was adopted in 1971, it did not ban the sale of asbestos-containing joint compounds. With the knowledge these companies had of the potential health hazards of exposure to asbestos, one would think they would have halted their production and sales of asbestos-containing joint compounds. To the contrary, many of the companies continued to produce and sell their asbestos-containing joint compounds until the late 1970s.