Asbestos as an Acoustic Soundproofing Material: What Do We Need to Know?

By Stan G. in Construction

Acoustical plaster made from asbestos was very common in homes and buildings throughout the world for two basic reasons: appearance and function. The plaster was being sprayed on the walls as well as ceilings, for instance, the "popcorn ceiling" was quite well known.

In addition to the pleasing appearance, acoustical plaster would also absorb sound. Therefore, acoustic panels were fixed onto the walls and ceiling to decrease the echoes from the noise and reverberation produced inside the rooms. Acoustic panel designs were commonly used at large gathering spaces such as:

  • Churches
  • Lecture halls
  • Performance halls
  • School auditoriums
  • Recording studios
  • Ballrooms

Asbestos was used as a binding material in the majority of construction materials from the 1930s until it was banned by the EPA in 1973. However, acoustical plaster and acoustical finishes were exempted from the ban and for this reason, most homes, as well as schools constructed after 1973, are likely to have asbestos-containing materials. Acoustical panels were designed to be porous and were usually mounted below the gap that exists under the concrete ceiling.

Researchers at Mount Sinai Medical School have established that acoustical plaster is still present in older buildings and pose a continuing public health risk. To be specific, the older building may have acoustic plaster or acoustical finishes containing asbestos that is not dangerous if intact but often these structures erode with age releasing high amounts of asbestos fibers into the surrounding air. Over a period of time, the acoustical plaster coating may crack or break apart allowing tiny asbestos particles to get released into the air. It can be extremely dangerous to people inhaling these fibers. Workers who were involved in spraying the acoustical plaster were at a greater risk because while doing the task of mixing the plaster and spraying it over the walls, they would have easily inhaled large amounts of asbestos.

Exposure to Asbestos in Acoustic Panels and Its Health Risks

Asbestos was considered a miracle mineral due to its multiple benefits such as fire resistance, lightweight, durability, and low cost. As a result, asbestos became a popular additive in acoustical ceiling tiles but unfortunately has exposed a lot of people to airborne fibers during the manufacturing, installation, repair, and renovation process. Such people who inhaled tiny asbestos fibers unknowingly decades ago are at a high risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos fibers, once inhaled, get lodged in the outer lining of major organs such as the lungs (pleura), heart (pericardium), and abdomen (peritoneum). These fibers cannot be removed and hence get stuck in the lining causing inflammation, which gradually leads to several chronic diseases such as pleural plaques and asbestosis. In severe conditions, the stuck asbestos fibers mutate the normal tissue cells turning them into cancerous mesothelioma cells.

Legal Compensation for People Affected by Asbestos in Acoustic Panels

Any individual who has been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases after having worked with acoustic panels can seek legal compensation. Even after the dangers of asbestos in acoustic panels came into light, manufacturing companies continued producing these panels and most of the manufacturers have been found liable to the loss due to negligence. It was only after the mid-1980s that most companies ceased the use of asbestos in their products.

Many of the companies have been directed to bear the medical treatment costs, lost wages, and other losses that patients and their families have incurred. Here are some major companies that have used asbestos in their products:

  • Owens Corning Fiberglass Ceiling Tiles
  • Flintkote
  • National Gypsum Gold Bond
  • United States Gypsum (USG) Ceiling Tiles

However, it should be noted that a few products may still contain asbestos enough to pose a danger, even though they claim not to be so. Cross-contamination is possible if the manufacturing has happened in the plant that stores, handles, and uses asbestos. To this day, asbestos-containing products are manufactured in countries with less stringent regulations.

Why Should I Test Products in My Home for Asbestos?

It is often impossible to tell whether asbestos is embedded in a material, as the fibers are too small to be observed with the naked eye. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for serious respiratory conditions, so thorough testing is required to ensure your home is asbestos-free.