Paneling containing anywhere from 3% to 80% asbestos was routinely used in construction for many years. These panels were especially common anywhere that heat could be found–stoves, ovens, furnaces, and other appliances–because asbestos is an extremely fire-resistant material. It is also strong, durable, and inexpensive. Similar asbestos-containing panels were used to soundproof and increase the sound quality of certain indoor spaces, such as homes, businesses, and schools.
Though most of this paneling has already been removed from public buildings, it is not uncommon to find it in older homes or buildings where a lack of funds has prevented proper renovation. Similar to other products made with asbestos, the panel was not dangerous in its full form. When workers began to cut or sand the panels, the deadly fibers were released and everyone who came into contact with them was exposed. This was also true if the panels should accidentally break or crack. Anyone involved in the manufacturing of the panels was also at risk.
Asbestos fibers, once inhaled into the lungs, are not excreted by the body and can cause health problems including lung scarring and asbestosis many years after the initial exposure. Mesothelioma, a cancer of the lungs and their lining, may take between 20 and 50 years to manifest itself.
Unfortunately, though some manufacturers knew the negative consequences associated with exposure to asbestos, they continued to make products that contained the mineral because it was inexpensive and did its job well. The use of asbestos was restricted in the late 1970s, but many companies who still had asbestos-containing products on hand used them until they ran out–well into the 1980s.