History and Background
America's entry into World War II caused rapid change in everyday life, including the introduction of drywall into construction projects. Prior to the war, buildings and homes had walls that were plastered, a process that took weeks to complete. A wall would be installed covered by thousands of small pieces of wood called 'lath', which were then covered with several coats of plaster. Each coat of plaster needed to be totally dry before the next could be applied, thus taking days and days to complete. Due to the extreme need for military structures throughout the country, there was a need for a faster process than common plaster. The answer was drywall.
In 1916 the United States Gypsum Company invented Sheetrock. Sheetrock was a 4' x 8' piece of gypsum pressed between sheets of extremely strong paper with no need for plaster (thus gaining the name 'drywall'). It could be quickly nailed onto walls and completed much faster than the plastering process. However it did not catch on at first because many people saw it in a derogatory sense as a cheap alternative to plaster. Once the war began, it was useful and time-saving.
After World War II ended, construction workers did not want to stop using drywall as it was much easier, faster and cheaper than the plastering process. Soon there was the great suburban migration of the 1950s where people moved out of the cities into their own homes. Drywall was much cheaper than plaster and has since become the norm in construction.
Tasks Putting Drywall Tapers at Risk
The process of installing drywall is divided into two parts: installation and taping. The installers are the people who actually attach the pieces of drywall to the wooden wall studs. The tapers are those people who then follow the installers and apply a putty compound and strips of tape to the joints to create a wall with no noticeable joints.
Drywall tapers main focus in construction projects is taping and finishing joints and other problems in recently installed drywall panels. They use a specialized trowel to spread a grey colored putty compound into the joints between pieces of drywall and also over nail and screw heads. They then press a paper strip, called the 'tape' into the newly spread putty and smooth it out thus hiding the joints. Once the compound is dry, the tapers need to sand it down so that it is as smooth as the rest of the wall. This process causes clouds of dust to be thrown into the air, creating a potentially hazardous environment. Tapers often repeat this process two and three times in order to get a perfect, unnoticeable joint in the drywall.
Drywall tapers, and others in the area should use protective masks in order to prevent inhalation of the dust, as some of the products: drywall, the compound, and even the tape, can be made with asbestos.
Tapers are also at risk because they usually work alongside the drywall installers. The installers are those men and women who measure the project and cut the large sections of drywall so they will fit the specific area. This process can also throw dangerous dust in the air so all that work with drywall products should take caution.
Sometimes drywall installers and tapers need to tear down an old wall in order to replace it with a new one. If the old wall was installed prior to the 1980s there is a strong possibility that it contains asbestos. Extreme precaution should be taken when demolishing an old wall so that a dangerous situation will be avoided.
Types of Asbestos Products Drywall Tapers Used
Since drywall became the standard for construction projects, tapers have used products containing asbestos. These include drywall tape, joint compound, plaster, wall patching compounds and even asbestos cement panels. Some examples include:
- Durabond Joint Compound
- Imperial Gypsum Cement Plaster
- Quick-Treat Joint Compound
- Sabinite Acoustical Plaster
Mesothelioma Diagnosis in Drywall Tapers
As a result of on the job asbestos exposure, many individuals who once worked as drywall tapers are now being diagnosed with mesothelioma or other types of asbestos-related diseases. This is because they were not adequately informed about the health and safety issues surrounding asbestos use and therefore, did not use proper precautions while working with asbestos containing products. Drywall tapers and other hard working blue collar workers were wrongly injured on the job as a direct result of negligence by asbestos companies.
In addition, because drywall tapers often brought asbestos dust and fibers home on their hair and clothing at the end of the work day, the health of their loved ones was also placed in jeopardy. Often, the dust and fibers would shake loose during the laundering process and the person(s) doing the laundry and those in the vicinity were at risk for breathing it in. Asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma. If you worked in the drywall taping trade it is important to know what the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma are. If you have, or suspect you may have symptoms, contact a health professional right away.