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Asbestos in Paint

Asbestos in Paint and Other Building Materials

During the 19th century, asbestos was seen as a miracle substance that could go a long way toward preventing damaging fire. As a result, asbestos fiber was added to virtually every building material, including building and machine paint. From the late 19th century up until the 1980s, asbestos paint contained as much as 10% asbestos fiber by volume.

These paints were used in residences, schools and other public buildings as well as commercial establishments, and maritime vessels. Asbestos paint was an inexpensive and efficient method of making any structure more fire-resistant, and was widely used in many applications for decades. When the health risks of asbestos exposure became more widely understood by the general public in the 1970s, however, most uses of asbestos were banned, and today asbestos paint is not generally produced or sold in the United States.

Hazards Associated with Paint Products

Medical researchers began to suspect the health dangers of asbestos as early as the 1890s; by the mid 1930s, there was little doubt that asbestos was responsible for several types of respiratory diseases.

In the early days, the fibers were usually mixed into the pigment just before application, exposing those who worked as painters to serious health risks. After application, the asbestos risk was minimal at first. However, asbestos in paint presents a danger when it is sanded or starts to flake off the surfaces to which it has been applied. Fortunately, there are a number of commercial sealants available that can encapsulate this asbestos material. Otherwise, surfaces with asbestos paint applied should be dealt with by professional asbestos removal experts.

Sources

Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)

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