When Was Asbestos Used in Plaster

When Was Asbestos Used in Plaster

Know the facts about asbestos and determine if you are at risk

By Theresa Leschmann

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Asbestos plaster was economical, decorative and provided a number of other desirable qualities that made it a natural choice in the construction industry. Since asbestos-related health issues can take years to develop, the material's use proliferated before the risks were discovered. Some estimates claim 90 percent to 95 percent of all construction undertaken while asbestos was on the market used some form of the material.

Why It Was Used

Asbestos has a high tensile strength, which has to do with the amount of stress a material can withstand. In the case of plaster, a high tensile strength would make a stronger, longer-lasting product. Asbestos is also flexible and resistant to heat and chemicals, desirable qualities in a plaster compound. It occurs naturally in some rocks and soil and is abundantly available, making it cost-effective as well.

Where It Was Used

A major use of asbestos was in acoustical plaster used to create sound barriers. This included ceiling tiles and coatings on walls and ceilings. Asbestos was also used in decorative plaster and to sculpt plaster designs, such as "popcorn" ceilings -- the rough-textured ceiling finish sprayed on a ceiling for effect -- and moldings and wall trim.

When It Was Used

Asbestos as a building material came into use in the early 20th century. Specifically with regard to plaster, it was prevalent from the 1940s through the 1980s. The manufacture of asbestos-containing products was discontinued in 1978, but products already made were not subject to the ban. These products were still being sold and used well into the 1980s. Any building constructed prior to the 1980s should be considered to potentially contain asbestos plaster.

Why It Was Discontinued

Regardless of its inherent qualities, asbestos is toxic when its fibers become airborne and breathable. Plaster is a danger in particular because it can be drilled, cracked or sanded, which releases the asbestos fibers into the air. Asbestos-related illness can take up to 50 years to develop. Eventually, high rates of death caused by asbestos-related diseases among asbestos miners, shipyard workers and others working with it caused the government to step in and ban the material's use.

How to Identify It

Plaster containing asbestos cannot be identified by sight. Samples collected by a certified asbestos handler are sent to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved laboratory, where they are studied with polarized light microscopy for identification. Laboratories performing the test should be accredited, and in most areas they can be found in the local telephone directory. Consult with the lab on the proper collection procedures and the amount needed for testing before collecting any samples.

About the Author

Theresa Leschmann is a regular contributor to DexKnows.

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