Throughout much of human history, people have relied upon the physical construction of buildings, homes, roads and plumbing systems to facilitate their survival and prosperity. From Ancient Rome - where concrete was invented and trades like carpentry and masonry developed amidst the burgeoning domes, vaults and arches - to the sprawling modern cityscapes of today, civilization as we know it has been indebted to the advancement of construction techniques, tools and technologies.
In the United States, the nation began a post-war growth spurt in the 1920's that was largely fueled by developments in the auto industry. This in turn led to road and highway projects that completely transformed the country's landscape, leading to the development of homes in suburban communities and urban centers of work and commerce. Needless to say, the construction industry prospered greatly throughout this transformation. And none of this structural and infrastructural overhaul would have been possible without construction workers, who quite literally built the country from the ground up. Indeed, by the end of the twentieth century, approximately six and a half million US workers annually were constructing more than 1.5 million new houses and about 300,000 commercial buildings in an industry that generated over 750 billion dollars.
There are many different trades that comprise the construction industry - electricians and equipment operators, carpenters and bricklayers, plumbers and plasterers, steel workers and welders, and even painters and decorators must work side by side in most building and construction projects. Generally, there are three kinds of construction projects: industrial, building/residential, and heavy/highway. Still, other projects like demolition and tunnel/shaft excavations are also considered construction work but don't fit as neatly into those categories. Much of the labor is physically demanding and in many cases quite hazardous. In addition to working around toxic chemicals and materials, loud noise, and/or dangerous heavy machinery, oftentimes construction workers are faced with toxic substances such as asbestos while working in confined spaces. As we will see, this can be a deadly combination.
Construction Workers Are at Risk for Asbestos Exposure on the Job
According to most data, construction work is the most hazardous of all land-based occupations (and second only to the fishing industry overall). And though much of the vocational danger occurs from falls and heavy objects, a surprising 17% of construction injuries are due to exposure to toxic materials, the most deadly of which is asbestos. In fact, approximately ten thousand workers are predicted to die each year for the next ten years from diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis, which are exclusively caused by working with (or around) asbestos without adequate protective measures. And it is estimated that over 1.3 million construction workers are exposed to asbestos-containing materials (ACM) every year.
Most structures constructed between 1920 and 1980 run a substantial risk of harboring asbestos products in the floors, walls, roof, insulation, pipes, boilers, fireproofing materials and other areas. Even today, though many uses for asbestos have been banned, it is still utilized in construction projects - usually in packing gaskets and roof panels. Thus, whenever a modification is made to any of these buildings (even basic maintenance or remodeling work), workers are in danger of toxic asbestos dust and fiber inhalation. Among highway crews, many roads are lined with asbestos cement sheeting and piping products. And medical studies have proven that the more one is exposed to asbestos, the greater chance that one will become ill with an asbestos cancer disease in his or her later years.
While drywall and flooring installers, roofers, tile setters, plumbers, pipefitters, insulators, electricians, boilermakers, bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers, welders, cement and sheet metal workers are at the most risk of asbestos exposure, in reality every construction worker could be at risk during projects performed on older buildings or roads as materials contaminated with asbestos are cut, sawed, stapled, sprayed, sanded, taped, repaired or replaced. Furthermore, a worker's family might even be at risk due to asbestos that is brought home on unwashed clothing, hands or hair.
Construction Workers Use a Variety of Asbestos Products
The following is a list of asbestos-containing products that construction workers may have come into contact with (where known, the years during which the product was manufactured is listed in parentheses):
Armstrong World Industries Vinyl Asbestos Tile, Armstrong Asphalt Tile (1931-1972), Armstrong Rubber Tile (1955-1956), Armstrong Excelon Tile (1954-1980), Carey Asphalt Floor Tiles (1930-1975), Pabco Floron Floor Tile (1920-1960), Flintkote Vinyl Asbestos Floor Tile, Flintkote Tiles (1940-1983), GAF Vinyl Asbestos Floor Tile (early 60's-late 70's), Johns Manville Corporation Floor Tile Products, and Kentile Vinyl Asbestos Tile.
Roofing, Shingles and Siding
Carey (aka Philip Carey Manufacturing Company) Careystone Roofing and Siding, Celotex El Rey Asbestos Fibred Roof Coating, Celobric Insulating Brick Siding, Flintkote Rexalt Roof Coating, Flintkote Roofing Products (1940-1983), Flintkote Roofing Shingles (1940-1983), Flintkote Siding (1940-1983), Flintkote Asbestos Cement Siding & Roofing (1950-1974), Ruberoid Grain-Tex Asbestos Cement Siding (early 50's), Ruberoid American Thatch (early 50's-?), Ruberoid Asbestos Panelstone (early 50's-?), Ruberoid Dura-Color (late 50's), Ruberoid Aristo Insulating Siding (early 40's-late 50's), Johns Manville Corporation Roofing Products, Johns Manville Corporation Siding Products, Keasbey & Mattison K&M Shake Shingle, National Gypsum Gold Bond Asbestone (mid 50's-early 80's), National Gypsum Gold Bond Siding (mid 50's-early 80's), National Gypsum Gold Bond Plasticrylic Panels (early 60's-early 80's), National Gypsum Gold Bond Asbestos Panels (mid 50's-early 80's), United States Gypsum Company Glatex Asbestos Cement Siding, USG Siding Shingles (Generic) (1937-1975), and USG Roofing (Generic) (1937-1975).
Millboard, Rollboard, and Asbestos Paper
Armstrong Accopac Asbestos Paper (mid 1930's-?), Carey Asbestos Paper (1906-1960), Carey Duct-Asbestos Insulation (1940-1947), GAF Ruberoid Asbestos Millboard (1928-1981), GAF Asbestos Rollboard (1928-1981), GAF Flat Corrugated Asbestos Paper (1928-1981), Manville Asbestos Paper Products, K&M APAC Board, Keene Asbestos Paper, National Gypsum Company Gold Bond Asbestos-Faced Mineral Board (1944-1945), Raymark Paper, and USG Asbestos Paper (1936-1939).
Door Cores and Ceiling Tiles
Keene (Baldwin-Hill) Styltone (1957-1972), National Gypsum Company Asbestos Ceiling Panels (1963-1981), and USG Ceiling Tile (1967-1976).
Wallboard and Wallcoverings
Fibreboard Corp./Pabco Gypsum Board (1954), Pabco Flamcurb Board (1951-1960), Pabco Roll Roofing (1920-1968), GAF Hearth-Glow Brick (early-mid 70's), Johns Manville Corporation Wallboard Products, National Gypsum Gold Bond Asbestone, National Gypsum Company Gold Bond Natcor (1944-1946), National Gypsum Company Humiguard, and National Gypsum Company Ripple-Tone Panels.
Plasters, Protective Coatings, Fireproofing, Compounds, and Paints
A.P. Green Thermo-Flake Coating (1963-1965), Armstrong World Industries Armaspray (1966-1968), Armstrong Emulsions (1939-1957), Armstrong Finishes (1939-1957), Armstrong Mastics (1939-1957), Armstrong Sealers (1939-1957), Armstrong World Industries CC Navy Sealer (1942-1962), Armstrong World Industries LT Sealer (1942-1962), Atlas Turner, Inc. Atlas Grade LB-8, Atlas Turner, Inc. Sprayed Limpet Asbestos LW 25 (1948-1973), Basic Inc. Kilnoise Acoustical Plaster, Carey Thermotex-B, Celotex Roof Coating, Celotex Emulsion, Celotex Primer, Celotex Corporation Noah's Pitch Plastic Compound, Celotex Corporation Spraycraft (1964-1972), Eagle-Picher Spray Mastic Coating (1960-1974), Eagle-Picher Industries Hi-Temp Corrosion Resistant Paint (1969-1971), Eagle-Picher Industries Insulstic - Brush Grade (1942-1959), Eagle-Picher Industries Insulstic - Trowel Grade (1939-1962), Flintkote Joint Compound (1960-80's), GAF Coverkote, GAF Ruberoid Roofing Asphalt, Ruberoid Weather Coat Emulsion, Keasbey & Mattison K&M Sprayed "Limpet" Asbestos, Keene BEH Mono-Spray (1963-1970), Keene Corporation Pyrospray (1963-1971), Keene Corporation Uni-Coustic (1963-1971), National Gypsum Gold Bond Plasters (early 30's-mid 70's), National Gypsum Gold Bond Sprayolite (mid 50's-early 70's), National Gypsum Gold Bond Joint Compounds (mid 30's-mid 70's), National Gypsum Gold Bond Fire-Shield Plaster (late 50's-early 70's), National Gypsum Company Craftco Cement Paint (1938-1952), National Gypsum Company Gold Bond Acoustical Plaster (?-1968), National Gypsum Company Gold Bond All-Purpose Joint Compound (1935-1975), National Gypsum Company Gold Bond E-Z Spray Texture (1959-1972), National Gypsum Company Gold Bond Exterior Stucco (1930-1949), National Gypsum Company Panelectric Groove Fill (1969-1972), National Gypsum Company Perfect Spray (1959-1972), National Gypsum Company Rockwall Acoustic Plaster (1936-1948), National Gypsum Company Thermo-Weld Compound (1935-1976), National Gypsum Company Two-in-One Compound (1935-1976), National Gypsum Company Vinyl Topping Compound (1935-1976), National Gypsum Company Wesco Joint Treatment (1935-1975), Unibestos Insulation (1936-early 70's), Quigley Damit (1940-1970), Raymark/Raytech/Raybestos Ablatube, Turner & Newall Spray Limpet Asbestos, United States Gypsum Company Red Top Plaster (late 20's-early 50's), United States Gypsum Company Durabond Joint Compound (early 60's-mid 70's), United States Gypsum Company Perf-A-Tape Joint System (mid 40's-mid 70's), United States Gypsum Company Oriental Exterior (early 30's-early 70's), United States Gypsum Company Imperial Plaster (mid 40's-early 70's), United States Gypsum Company Structolite Plaster (mid-70's-?), United States Gypsum Company Sabinite Acoustical Plaster (early 30's-mid 60's), United States Gypsum Company Hi-Lite Acoustical Plaster (mid 50's-early 70's), United States Gypsum Company Audicote Acoustical Plaster (mid 50's-early 70's), USG Asbestos Fibre Covering (early 30's-?) United States Gypsum Company "Sheetrock" Texture (1964-1976), United States Gypsum Company Bondcrete (1940-1943), United States Gypsum Company Pyrobar Mortar Mix (1969-1972), United States Gypsum Company Spray Texture Paint/Finish (1959-1976), United States Gypsum Company Texolite (1961-1967), United States Gypsum Company Textone (1944-1975), USG Firecode Plaster (1959-1964), USG Spraydon Fireproofing Plaster (1965-1971), USG Super Hard Spray (1968-1969), USG Texture Paint (1930-1976), Cafco Blaze Shield (1954-1971), Cafco Blaze Shield Type D (1954-1971), Cafco Blaze Shield Type D (1954-1971), Cafco Cominco (1954-1971), Cafco Heat-Shield (1954-1971), Cafco Patching Fiber (1954-1971), Cafco Power-Shield (1954-1971), Cafco Sound-Shield (1954-1971), Cafco Spray (1954-1971), Unarco Asphalt Waterproofing Materials (1957-1960), WR Grace & Company Zonolite Super 40, WR Grace & Company Zonolite Mono-Kote, WR Grace & Company Zonolite Plaster, WR Grace & Company Ari-Zonolite Texture (1961-1964), WR Grace & Company Econo-White (1956-1970), WR Grace & Company Ez-Tex, WR Grace & Company Gun Goat Spray Surfacer (?-1973), WR Grace & Company Hi-Sorb Plaster (1973-?), WR Grace & Company Perlcoustic, WR Grace & Company Perltex (?-1973), WR Grace & Company Prep Coat (?-1973), WR Grace & Company Spra-Wyt, WR Grace & Company Vermiculite, WR Grace & Company Versakote, WR Grace & Company Z-Tex, WR Grace & Company Zono-Coustic (1959-1973), WR Grace & Company Zonolite Spra-Insulation (1960-1972), and WR Grace & Company Zonolite-Spra-Tex (1955-1972).
Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer and Asbestosis in Construction Workers
Both fatal and non-fatal diseases result from asbestos inhalation. Every year, mesothelioma cancer alone claims over three thousand victims, and even low levels of asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma. Asbestosis, though non-cancerous and non-fatal of itself, is a progressive disease that can lead to disability or fatality. In many cases, decades can pass between one's initial asbestos exposure and the onset of symptoms indicative of an asbestos-related disease. This time between exposure and diagnosis is called the "latency period". If you or a family member have been exposed to any of the products listed above or have frequently worked on or around construction sites, be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of the following diseases, as they are described in greater detail below:
About three-quarters of the time, mesothelioma occurs in the lining around the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), but it is occasionally found around the lining of the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) and/or stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma) as well. Sadly, the amount of mesothelioma diagnoses is on the upswing, as mesothelioma can take up to fifty years to materialize post-exposure, and many exposures that occurred in the middle of the last century are just now manifesting as malignancies. Wherever they may occur, aggressive mesothelioma tumors are quick to metastasize and spread to other parts of the body. Proper mesothelioma treatment can often slow the disease and improve the patient's prognosis. Unfortunately, there is as yet no cure for mesothelioma.
Lung Cancer (Due to Past Asbestos Exposure)
Though mesothelioma is only contractible from asbestos exposure, a variety of different substances can contribute to the development of lung cancer. Even so, scientific studies show that smokers who have also inhaled asbestos dust and fibers have a ninety percent greater chance of contracting lung cancer than smokers who have no such exposure. Symptoms of asbestos-related lung cancer on average appear more quickly than those of mesothelioma, often presenting in between ten and thirty years after one's initial asbestos exposure (still a significant span of time). Further complicating matters is the fact that there are sometimes no easily detectable symptoms among those who may already have lung cancer. When symptoms are present, they may include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, discomfort when breathing and/or swallowing, loss of appetite and/or weight, coughing up of mucus and blood, hoarseness and chest pain.
Asbestosis (a respiratory disease)
Though non-malignant, asbestosis is somewhat like mesothelioma in that it only occurs as a result of working with or around asbestos-containing materials (ACM). Asbestosis is a respiratory disease in which the lungs are damaged, inflamed and scarred from the inhalation of harmful asbestos fibers and dust. This in turn can lead to a shortness of breath and even complete respiratory failure. Symptoms of asbestosis usually occur between five to ten years after one's initial exposure to asbestos products. Unfortunately, over half of those who contract asbestosis go on to develop pleural plaques (a scarring of the lining of the lungs), and it is not uncommon for asbestosis sufferers to contract lung cancer or mesothelioma as well.