Asbestos was used as a building material throughout the twentieth century up into 1970s. One such usage was acoustical finishes, cement products used to cover the interior ceilings and walls of bedrooms and living rooms. This was usually done to help insulate sound.
During the late 1950s the use of acoustical finishes in the “popcorn ceiling” became common. This was because of its affordability and the fact that the application of it took very little effort. The finish was an excellent method of cancelling exterior noise. It could also work well to cover construction flaws and hide other blemishes.
Eventually, the dangers surrounding the use of asbestos were widely known. It was soon realized that there were more drawbacks than advantages to building with asbestos. It was perfectly safe so long as it was left undisturbed within the structure of the building. The problem is that the moment an acoustical finish is drilled or cut into the asbestos fibers become airborne and are easily inhaled. Also, any damage or building deterioration can cause the fibers to crumble and be released into the air.
When it is inhaled, asbestos can potentially cause a whole host of medical problems. Because of this, the Environmental Protection Agency banned its usage in 1978. They did not, however, prohibit the use of existing stockpiles. This means that buildings that were built as late as the 1980s could potentially contain asbestos-laced acoustical finishes.
It is not possible to determine if an acoustical finish contains asbestos by merely looking at the finish. It is often necessary to retrieve a sample of the material so that it can be examined by an expert. Disturbing undamaged finish should be avoided because the moment it becomes damaged the risk for exposure is increased.