Drywall (also known as “wallboard” or “gypsum board”) can be found in just about every building constructed after the 1930s. It emerged as a popular alternative to traditional lath and plaster construction during World War II and the “building boom” that followed. Because of its affordability and efficient installation process, drywall has remained one of the most popular materials used in both residential and commercial construction to this day.
Unfortunately, many building materials that were manufactured prior to the 1980s, including gypsum boards and the joint compounds that were used to join them together, contain asbestos. Continue reading to learn more about the process of identifying asbestos in drywall and the health risks associated with asbestos exposure.
1. What is Asbestos?
Asbestos refers to a group of six naturally occurring fibrous silicates commonly used in the manufacturing of insulation and surfacing materials prior to the 1980s. When asbestos containing materials (ACMs) are inhaled or ingested, they can be hazardous to human health.
2. How Common is Asbestos in Drywall?
Asbestos can be found in most drywall materials produced before the 1980s. If your home, commercial building, or other structure was built between 1940 and 1980, it’s very likely that it contains asbestos.
3. Why is Asbestos so Prevalent?
Before manufacturers were aware of the health risks associated with asbestos exposure, it was considered an ideal building material due to its fireproofing, insulating, and strengthening properties. It’s also inexpensive and widely available, making it especially appealing for use in common products like drywall.
4. How Dangerous is Asbestos in Drywall?
Drywall that contains asbestos isn’t hazardous to humans unless it’s disturbed, which often occurs during a home remodel or DIY project. When ACMs are disturbed, small particles are released into the air that, when inhaled, can lead to serious health problems. Something as simple as sanding or painting drywall that contains asbestos can release these dangerous, undetectable fibers.
5. What are the Health Risks?
When asbestos dust is released into the air and inhaled or ingested, fibers collect in the lungs, leading to scarring and inflammation over time. Depending on the length and frequency of exposure, and the amount of toxic material that was inhaled, asbestos can cause chronic coughing, lung cancer, mesothelioma (a type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen), asbestosis, pleural effusions, and other serious health conditions.
6. What Layer of the Wall is Asbestos In?
Asbestos is most commonly found in the joint compound (mud) layer of the wall, though it can also be present in the sheetrock itself, the tape, and the surfacing texture. That’s why, when sampling, it’s best to include all of these layers so the lab can analyze each one.
7. When Should I have my Walls Tested?
If your home was built before the 1980s, it’s likely that your drywall contains asbestos; the same is true for certain types of flooring, insulation, and popcorn ceilings. Because asbestos is hazardous when disturbed, you’ll want to get your drywall tested any time you’re considering sanding, painting, demolishing, or otherwise altering your drywall.
8. How is Asbestos Tested?
Accredited labs, like JSE Labs, follow the EPA 600/R-93/116 method to safely and effectively test for asbestos, while using a process called visual area estimation (VAE). If the sample confirms the presence of asbestos, they can perform a further test called a point count that delivers even more precise results.
9. Who Takes Asbestos Samples?
If you feel comfortable, you can take the sample yourself and send it in to an accredited lab for testing. Otherwise, you can hire an expert to come collect the sample for you. If you choose to do it yourself, make sure you wear gloves and follow proper safety precautions. The best location to take a sample from is the inner corner of a room where the two pieces of drywall meet. You’ll want to get at least 2 square inches of material, sampled through the substrate to ensure you capture every layer.
10. Are ACMs Still Used in Construction?
While asbestos-containing products are no longer manufactured for use by the general public, people are often surprised to find out that it is still imported and used in the US to manufacture products like asphaltic roofing compounds for commercial buildings, gaskets, and friction products like brake shoes and clutches. The manufacturing and installation of these products are heavily regulated by OSHA in order to protect the health and safety of the workers who handle them.
What To Do if Your Drywall Contains Asbestos
If you suspect that your drywall, ceiling, insulation, or other products in your home may contain asbestos, it’s important to have it tested before you paint, sand, renovate, or otherwise disturb the area. If left unidentified and unremedied, asbestos can pose serious risks to your health. For more information on dealing with asbestos in your home, visit Oregon.gov.
JSE Labs specializes in testing bulk materials for asbestos, mold, lead, and other potential hazards to help protect your family’s health and safety. You can drop off or mail your sample or get in touch to schedule an asbestos survey to have our experts collect your sample for you.
Lisa started in the industrial hygiene and environmental industry in 1992 as an asbestos microscopist and began performing building inspections for asbestos, lead paint, and other hazards in 1994.
“This career has been an amazing experience, traveling for work to perform inspections both locally and abroad to locations such as Hawaii and Germany. My real love however is being in the laboratory and assisting our wonderful clients.”