Drywall first became popularized in the U.S. during World War II. Before that, most internal walls were made of plaster. Building plaster walls was a long and laborious process that greatly increased total construction time and cost. During the war, buildings needed to be constructed quickly and cheaply. Drywall was the answer. Drywall, also known as sheetrock, is a flat gypsum surface that is given additional strength by being sandwiched between two sheets of thick paper. The drywall could be quickly nailed onto a wooden frame to easily create a wall without the need for time-consuming plaster. After the war, use of drywall continued to be used as a time-saving building technique.
After the drywall is initially installed, it then requires taping. Taping is a process whereby the drywall is made smooth and uniform. Tapers apply putty or caulking into the gaps at the corners of rooms, along the ceiling, and between individual sheets of drywall. Using a trowel, the putty is smoothed out and a thin paper, or tape, is put over it creating a flat plane with no seams. After the putty dries, the taper sands it down for further refinement.
Drywall Tapers and Asbestos
Like many other jobs in the construction industry, drywall tapers are at risk of being exposed to asbestos on the job site. Drywall tapers are required on almost every job site that requires internal walls, as drywall is the most popular material for internal walls in the United States. There are two main jobs positions directly relating to drywall: drywall installers and drywall tapers.
Installing and taping drywall creates a significant amount of dust, especially during the sanding process. Because installers and tapers work side-by-side, they are not only exposed to the work they are doing, but to the work of their partner. The problem with asbestos occured because before the 1980s, the putty compound and the tape used by drywall tapers both contained asbestos. Asbestos was regularly used in all types of adhesives. This means that everyone who worked as a drywall taper during and prior to the 1980s is at risk of asbestos-related illnesses.
However, the risk of asbestos exposure to drywall tapers didn’t end in the 1980s. The risk continues today because many drywall projects are refinishing or remodeling jobs. Through the years, the asbestos-containing putty has been held in place by wallpaper or several coats of paint. However, once it gets torn down for new drywall to go up that old putty releases asbestos fibers into the air, exposing all those working in the room.