Asbestos in Drywall

By Stan G. in Construction

In the case of many American buildings, the most commonly encountered building supply is drywall, since for the longest time it represented the most popular choice when it came to work regarding interior wall finishing. From residential buildings to industrial and commercial ones, drywall was the first choice in construction projects for a period of more than seven decades.

Drywall is also widely known under the names of gypsum wallboard and sheetrock. The extensive use of the material is based on valid reasoning: it does not require a complex installation, it finishes smoothly and it is cost-effective, which made it perfectly convenient for homeowners and businesses across the United States. However, to the misfortune of such benefits, a large part of the manufacturers producing drywall used asbestos in its composition.

Asbestos Usage in Drywall

Asbestos is a toxic fibrous mineral that makes its way inside the body by inhalation. Medical records that have kept a watch on asbestos diseases show that the human body is not able to naturally eliminate the fibers. Without any resistance on the part of the host organism, the microscopic asbestos will attach itself to the soft tissue enveloping the lungs, the abdomen or the heart and create a constant irritation that over time may lead to the formation of a tumor. The tricky thing with health issues provoked by asbestos is the long latency, which can be as long as five decades.

In the period prior to the 1980s, building components in general, and that includes drywall, were made from mixtures containing asbestos. The initial plan that construction manufacturers had in mind was to encourage the addition of the mineral into drywall in order to increase the strength of the material while at the same time keeping it lightweight. Other qualities, such as the mineral's properties for fireproofing and for soundproofing further sealed the deal on the rewarding use of asbestos in construction projects.

By the time World War II was happening, homes and public buildings all across the United States used asbestos-containing drywall for interior finishing. The period following the war brought about what historians refer to as a "building boom", which suggests that the demand for construction materials and, implicitly, for the toxic asbestos, skyrocketed. Not only did the mineral possess valuable physical properties, but it was also available in numerous mines in North America which meant it could be accessed in large amounts for low prices.

Guessing Vs. Knowing

If the building you live in or the one in which you work was constructed before the 1980s, and particularly in the period between 1950 and the 1980s, there is an increased chance for the drywall to contain asbestos, as the interval matches the times of intense use of the mineral in building materials. However, it should be kept in mind that simply having drywall in your house or work site does not pose a threat to your health, not even if there are asbestos fibers within it. It is important to take careful notice of the state of the materials. In this sense, the environment is safe to live in if the fibers are sealed in with paint that is in good condition and has not deteriorated over the years.

What you should be cautious of when working with drywall that you suspect contains asbestos is to create as little dust as possible. It would be quite difficult for a person without any sort of professional knowledge to properly accomplish such a task. Therefore, the best option for your safety and the one of your loved ones is to bring in asbestos experts that can deal with the issue in a timely and approved manner.

Asbestos, especially in the form of microscopic fibers, cannot be identified by the untrained eye. No smell or particular visual will catch your attention, which is why if you want to know if there is asbestos in your drywall, you need to have samples tested so that with however you decide to proceed next, you will do so in full knowledge of the facts.

Handling a DIY Project

If your drywall does turn out to contain asbestos, and you intend to carry on by yourself with getting rid of it as part of your renovation project or repair work, then here are a few things you should consider before jumping into the do-it-yourself fever:

  • make sure that working with hazardous materials is approved in your state.
  • if homeowners are approved for abatement work, collect authorized information regarding the process.
  • admit your limitations and stick to small jobs, meaning actions that would disturb less than one square meter of drywall.
  • use a respirator equipped with P100 cartridges.
  • use disposable coveralls so that your clothes will not carry toxic fibers outside the work site.
  • dampen the drywall with a solution made from water and dishwasher detergent for as long as the process lasts to prevent dust.

If your project implies focusing on a little more than one square meter of drywall, than the adequate way to do it would be for you to hire a team of licensed abatement professionals to ensure both the success of your remodeling and the safety of your health.

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.