According to researchers at Mount Sinai Medical School, acoustical plaster in older buildings is a continuing health risk to the public. Specifically, these structures may have acoustical plaster or acoustical finishes that contain asbestos, a toxic mineral that can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Although not dangerous when intact, acoustical plaster made with asbestos often erodes with age, releasing high concentrations of asbestos fibers into the air.

Asbestos was used as a binding material in hundreds of construction materials from the 1930s until the EPA banned its use in 1973. However, existing asbestos-containing materials, including acoustical plaster and acoustical finishes, were exempt from the ban. Thus, even homes and schools built after 1973 may contain materials that have asbestos as a component. For example, acoustical plaster containing asbestos was still being used as a finish for ceilings in the 1980s.

Acoustical Plaster Containing Asbestos in “Popcorn” Ceilings

Between the late 1950s and the 1980s, one of the most common uses of acoustical plaster containing asbestos was in “popcorn” ceilings. These cottage cheese-looking acoustical plasters were a cheap, easy-to-install option that covered defects and poor workmanship in ceilings. Now, however, these popcorn ceilings and acoustical plasters are considered outdated and many people are having them removed.

Installation & Removal of Acoustical Plaster Containing Asbestos

Removing construction materials that contain asbestos, such as acoustical plaster or popcorn ceilings, is a dangerous activity. When asbestos-containing acoustical plasters are disturbed, asbestos fibers are released into the air. When floating in the air, asbestos fibers may be inhaled by humans and pets. When inhaled, these fibers lodge themselves inside the body, initiating a disease process that can result in mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and other serious illnesses.

Individuals who installed or applied the asbestos-containing acoustical plaster or acoustic finishes and those working in the area were at risk for inhaling asbestos fibers as well. These individuals include drywall installers, painters, laborers, and construction specialists. Many of these workers have developed mesothelioma or other asbestos-caused diseases after spending years working around asbestos products while unaware of the serious hazard.

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Published November 17, 2011 by