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Drywall Tapers

Drywall Taping and Asbestos Exposure

History of the Drywall Taper Trade

The drywall taping trade developed during the onset of World War II when construction projects evolved from building plaster based walls to building walls using drywall. Before the Second World War, houses and commercial buildings had walls made of plaster. Building plaster walls required a long multi-step process to complete. The process began by installing a wall and covering it with many small pieces of wood named lath. Several coats of plaster would then be applied to the wall but each coat needed to thoroughly dry before the next could be applied. This resulted in a long construction cycle which could not be tolerated in a wartime situation where the construction of military buildings needed to take place quickly. Drywall was the logical answer to this dilemma.

Sheetrock was invented around 1916 by the US Gypsum Company. Coming in standard 4' x 8' sizes, sheetrock was nothing more than gypsum sandwiched between sheets of durable paper and this easily eliminated the need for plaster. Hence it was given the name drywall. Builders could easily and quickly nail this sheetrock onto a wood frame to create the wall. While there was initial resistance to using drywall because it was thought to be an inferior alternative to plaster, it soon gained popularity because it shaved so much time off the construction project life cycle.

At the conclusion of the war, builders continued to favor drywall because it allowed them to get the job done quicker and it was less expensive. In the 1950's when people began migrating to the suburbs and building their own homes, drywall became the material of choice for wall construction.

Drywall Tapers are Frequently Exposed to Asbestos on the Job

The drywall installation process consists of two parts: installing the drywall and taping. The installation process involves nailing the actual drywall pieces to a wooden frame or wall studs. Taping is needed to create a clean wall with no obvious joints. This is accomplished by applying putty and strips of tape to the joints and this is primarily done by a Drywall Taper.

Using a trowel designed for drywall taping use, drywall tapers apply putty compound into the gaps between the sheets of drywall as well as over nail and screw heads to make them invisible. Next, a drywall taper will apply a thin piece of paper (called tape) onto the putty and smooth it out. This hides joints and nail head indentations. When the putty dries, drywall taper then sands it down to even out the wall. This process is generally performed two to three times to achieve a smooth wall surface. In all instances, however, the process generates a tremendous amount of dust that becomes airborne. It is therefore important for drywall tapers to take the necessary precautions to prevent them from breathing in the dust by using breathing protection masks. Prior to the 1980's putty compound and drywall tape generally contained asbestos.

Because drywall tapers frequently work alongside drywall installers who also generate dust during the installation process, hey are at further increased risk for inhaling asbestos containing dust. Both tapers and installers should always take appropriate precautions against breathing in dangerous dust particles. This is especially true if a project involves the demolition or repair of an old wall installed before 1980.

Drywall taping supplies as mentioned above primarily consisted of joint compound and drywall tape. Other products used in the trade, however, include asbestos cement panels, plaster, and wall patching compounds. Some brand names are durabond joint compound, sabinite acoustical plaster, imperial gypsum cement plaster and quick-treat joint compound.

Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer and Asbestosis are Common Diseases Found in Drywall Tapers

By the middle of the 1970s, there was a clear link between asbestos exposure and diseases of the lung. Occupations such as drywall taping caused trades people to be exposed to asbestos for extended periods of time. It was soon discovered that they were also developing pulmonary diseases (such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis) from inhaling asbestos fibers on the job.

These diseases include:

Mesothelioma Cancer

The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Pleural mesothelioma involves the lining of the lung and is the most common form diagnosed. Peritoneal mesothelioma involves the lining of the stomach and pericardial mesothelioma affects the lining around the heart. All three types have a poor prognosis.

Asbestos Related Lung Cancer

Smokers who are exposed to asbestos are at higher risk for developing lung cancer as the asbestos exposure can exacerbate the formation of malignant tumors that block the air passages. Asbestos workers who do not smoke have a fivefold greater risk of developing lung cancer than non-smokers, and those asbestos workers who smoke have a risk that is fifty to ninety times higher than non-smokers. Lung cancer that develops as a combination of factors including asbestos exposure is called asbestos related lung cancer.


Asbestosis is a pulmonary condition caused exclusively by exposure to asbestos where scar tissue builds up in the lungs resulting in breathing problems and reduced blood flow.

Many times several years can pass between the time a worker stops being exposed to asbestos and the actual asbestos related diagnosis. Sometimes 10 years can lapse or even as many as 30 to 40 years before someone is diagnosed with a disease like Mesothelioma cancer. This delay between exposure and diagnosis is called the "latency period". The common symptoms of asbestos related illness are: hard time breathing, chest pain, and a persistent dry cough that sometimes shows blood.

These diseases are not just evident in the people who worked with asbestos containing products. Many times family members were subject to second hand exposure via the asbestos dust that workers brought home on their clothes, shoes and hair.

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