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Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure for Drywallers

Asbestos was often used in drywall during the 20th century to resist heat and increase durability. Therefore, drywallers were often exposed to asbestos when installing or repairing drywall in a home, office or other types of buildings. Occupational asbestos exposure through drywall work can lead to deadly cancers, including a rare one called mesothelioma.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent

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Important Facts About Asbestos Exposure in Drywallers

  • Drywall is a necessary component of homes, offices, government buildings, hospitals, schools and more.
  • During the 20th century, asbestos was often added to joint drywall compounds, which is a mud-like substance that fills the empty spaces between drywall panels.
  • Asbestos can also be found in old sheetrock in buildings. Sheetrock is one of the main brands of drywall and was manufactured by the United States Gypsum Company.
  • Drywallers who worked from the 1930s-1980s could have been exposed to asbestos from installing, repairing, or replacing drywall. Drywallers today are only exposed to “legacy asbestos,” which is asbestos still present in the drywall of old homes.
  • There are reported cases of mesothelioma among drywallers and a lot of drywall companies have filed for bankruptcy to avoid the onslaught of lawsuits against them.

What is Drywall?

Drywall, a necessary construction element, is a flat panel made of gypsum plaster placed between two sheets of thick paper. It is attached to metal or wood studs using nails or screws. Drywall is installed on interior walls or ceilings in offices, homes, schools, hospitals, government buildings, entertainment venues and more.

What is Sheetrock?

Sheetrock, sometimes used interchangeably with drywall, is just one brand of drywall – similar to Firestone as a brand of tires or Sea-Doo as a brand of jet skis. Sheetrock is a drywall brand produced by the United States Gypsum Company, or USG.

There are other types of asbestos-containing drywall, but sheetrock is one of the most common.

Drywallers Job Description

Drywallers and ceiling tile installers hang wallboard and install ceiling tile inside buildings, including homes and offices. They spend most of the job standing, bending, or reaching, all while lifting heavy drywall panels.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were an estimated 128,400 drywall installers in the country as of 2021.

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Asbestos in Drywall Installation and Repair

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with two distinct characteristics that make it an appealing addition to drywall installation and repair: heat-resistance and durability. Asbestos can reduce heat, protect drywall from heat damage, and potentially slow the spread of fires in a building. Asbestos can also preserve drywall panels for many years, avoiding the need for repair or replacement. Drywall containing asbestos was common from the 1930s-1980s.

Asbestos was often used in joint drywall compounds, which is mud-like material filling the seams between drywall panels. Drywallers installed drywall on interior walls or ceilings and may have disturbed asbestos while sanding the joint compounds after they dry or while patching plasters, wall textures, ceiling textures, joint tape and acoustical plaster. The use of asbestos in drywall and joint compounds poses a significant health risk for drywallers as they may face occupational asbestos exposure

According to the website Asbestos123, which conducts asbestos screening and testing, the following drywall companies are just a few of those responsible for manufacturing asbestos-containing wall materials:

  • Bestwall-Gypsum Company
  • Hamilton Materials, Inc.
  • Kaiser Gypsum Company, Inc.
  • Kelly-Moore Paint Company
  • National Gypsum Company
  • Synkoloid Company
  • American Biltrite
  • Amtico Floors
  • Armstrong World Industries
  • Congoleum Corporation
  • EverWear
  • GAF Corporation
  • Kentile Floors
  • Montgomery Ward
  • Sears-Roebuck

Asbestos Diseases for Drywall Workers

Asbestos is not dangerous when intact and whole. It’s a durable mineral made up of many fibers resembling strands of cloth. However, when disturbed, asbestos is very dangerous.

Disturbance can cause asbestos fibers to detach from the main source. These fibers are weightless and microscopic, meaning they float in the air undetectable to the human eye. If these fibers are inhaled or swallowed, they can travel through the body to the lung cavity or abdominal cavity.

There are thin linings in the lung and abdominal cavities. These linings are protective layers for the lungs and the many organs in the abdomen. If asbestos fibers invade these linings, they can aggravate tissue cells on either side. The cells, called mesothelial cells, can mutate and form tumors, which is how mesothelioma cancer forms.

According to medical articles, there are reported mesothelioma deaths among former drywall workers. Asbestos exposure can also cause lung cancer and a deadly lung tissue scarring disease (asbestosis).

Dangers for Today’s Drywallers

Asbestos-containing materials for construction of homes and offices are no longer manufactured in the United States. The public’s awareness of how dangerous asbestos is led companies to find alternatives, and in March 2024, the Environmental Protection Agency banned ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos, which is the last type reportedly still used in a scarce few industries.

Therefore, drywallers who are installing drywall panels on new homes or buildings should not be exposed to asbestos.

However, legacy asbestos is still a concern for drywallers. Legacy asbestos refers to old asbestos still present in homes, offices and other buildings from the 20th century. These buildings, if they contain drywall joint compounds made with asbestos, may not have been renovated recently.

Drywallers who repair or replace drywall panels in these buildings are at risk of disturbing asbestos in the joint compounds. This work can lead to asbestos exposure.

Help for Drywallers With Mesothelioma

If you have mesothelioma and once installed, repaired, or replaced drywall in homes, offices and other buildings, you should be compensated to help with medical bills, lost wages and more. You deserve financial compensation from the companies responsible for manufacturing asbestos-containing materials, such as drywall panels and drywall joint compounds.

This compensation can come from asbestos lawsuits or, more commonly, asbestos trust fund claims. Asbestos trust funds are bank accounts with money set aside to compensate victims of asbestos diseases (such as former drywallers exposed to asbestos through drywall installation, repair or replacement).

Bestwall-Gypsum, now called Bestwall LLC, which is the subsidiary company of Georgia-Pacific, is an example of an asbestos trust fund. Bestwall-Gypsum previously manufactured wallboards, joint compounds and drywall.

Georgia-Pacific purchased the company in 1965 and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2017. In 2020, the company pledged $1 billion to create an asbestos trust fund.

Contact our lead patient advocate, Karen Ritter, via email karen@mesotheliomaguide.com to learn your options. She can connect you with top-ranked cancer centers and mesothelioma specialists. We also have access to asbestos exposure and legal experts to help you better understand your exposure and how to you can hold the corporations responsible. 

Sources & Author

  1. Types of Drywall. Home Depot. Retrieved from: https://www.homedepot.com/c/ab/types-of-drywall/9ba683603be9fa5395fab90c24feaae. Accessed: 07/04/2023.
  2. Sheetrock Asbestos Removal: What to Know. Atlantic Bay Contracting. Retrieved from: https://www.atlanticbaycontracting.com/post/sheetrock-asbestos-removal-what-you-need-to-know. Accessed: 07/04/2023.
  3. Drywall Installers, Ceiling Tile Installers, and Tapers. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/drywall-and-ceiling-tile-installers-and-tapers.htm. Accessed: 07/04/2023.
  4. How to Identify Asbestos-Based Drywall. Asbestos123. Retrieved from: https://www.asbestos123.com/news/asbestos-in-drywall/. Accessed: 07/04/2023.
  5. Comparative Risks of Cancer from Drywall Finishing Based on Stochastic Modeling of Cumulative Exposures to Respirable Dusts and Chrysotile Asbestos Fibers. Risk Analysis: An International Journal. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/risa.12297. Accessed: 07/04/2023.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.