Throughout the 20th century, carpenters used materials and tools that contained asbestos fibers. Though they did not know it at the time, these products put them at risk of developing debilitating asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. Carpenters are at still risk today if they do remodeling or demolition on older buildings. Carpenters who developed an asbestos-related disease may be eligible for financial compensation.
Risks Faced by Carpenters on the Job
Injuries and deaths are far too common in carpentry.
On a daily basis, carpenters are exposed to health and safety risks like:
- Dangerous machinery
- Extreme temperatures
- Heavy lifting
- Toxic solvents, molds, and fungi
Thanks to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) efforts to increase safety awareness, carpenters are now better protected against these risks than ever before. By contrast, however, many carpenters who worked throughout much of the 20th century, especially before 1980, were kept in the dark about one of the worst hazards of all: asbestos.
Before metal studs were invented to frame drywall, carpenters were responsible for framing the inside and outside of virtually every residential, industrial, and commercial building. They also frequently built smaller-scale products like furniture.
Did You Know?
For much of the 20th century, many of the everyday tools and materials that carpenters used contained asbestos. Unfortunately, this was a time before the dangers of asbestos became widespread public knowledge.
As carpenters constructed buildings and furniture, among other things, their materials and tools may have released asbestos fibers into the air. This put their health — as well as the health of their coworkers and families — at serious risk.
Asbestos-Containing Materials Carpenters Were Exposed To
Carpenters used hundreds of building materials while helping to develop buildings and structures. In fact, almost every carpentry product made before the 1980s had the potential to contain asbestos.
Common asbestos-containing carpentry products included:
- Finishing cement
- Floor tiles
- Insulation (both spray-on and panel)
- Joint compounds
- Patching plasters
- Roofing shingles and siding
- Wallboard products like drywall and tape
Originally, the purpose of asbestos in these products was to protect them against fire, heat, and decay. However, as early as the 1920s, researchers found indisputable evidence that inhaled or ingested asbestos could lead to the development of asbestosis, mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, and other fatal and debilitating diseases.
Most asbestos-made carpentry materials were phased out of production in the 1980s as a result, but the damage was already done.
Mesothelioma Risk By the Numbers
Due to decades of rampant asbestos use, 1 in 10 carpenters who worked during the mid-to-late 20th century will die from mesothelioma, a deadly and incurable cancer. The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure.
Who Is at Risk?
Carpentry is a versatile skill and embodies a number of different roles and careers. As a result, there were many ways carpenters could be exposed to asbestos.
General, specialty, and heavy-construction carpenters have an increased risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.
Other types of carpenters with a higher risk of developing these diseases include:
- Floor layers
These professionals used a variety of hand and power tools to cut, hammer, and sand asbestos-containing materials. This unknowingly generated large amounts of asbestos-contaminated dust in often cramped spaces.
The asbestos companies that produced these materials were well aware of the risks but chose to keep them hidden. That corporate decision left carpenters with insufficient protection against the airborne fibers that would eventually claim thousands of lives.
Are Carpenters at Risk Today?
Though carpenters rarely work on large-scale projects anymore — and most manufacturers have phased out asbestos-containing products — several factors put carpenters at continued risk today.
Examples of these factors are:
- Carpenters are occasionally called upon for framing, insulating, and other construction work. Though they are now trained to wear protective clothing, some respirator filters only protect against asbestos fibers to a certain degree. Unfortunately, it only takes one fiber to trigger an asbestos-related disease.
- Older buildings constructed before the 1980s likely still contain asbestos-contaminated materials. Demolition and/or renovation projects in these older buildings sometimes involve cutting away these materials, which releases asbestos into the air.
- Symptoms of asbestos-related diseases usually appear 20-50 years after first exposure. Because of the long latency period, carpenters exposed to asbestos decades ago may not realize that they are now at risk.
Another threat to carpenters and their families, which sometimes gets overlooked, is the risk of secondary exposure. Anyone in proximity to a carpenter at work is at risk, too, as asbestos dust spreads easily. Family members are particularly at risk for what is referred to as “secondhand exposure,” as they may have been exposed to asbestos dust that was brought home on workers’ clothes, hair, skin, or tools.
Help for Carpenters Exposed to Asbestos
Manufacturers of asbestos-containing products and materials knew their products contained asbestos. Nonetheless, they willingly exposed carpenters for decades in order to protect their profits. This exposure also hurt those who worked closely with carpenters and their families. Because of this, those affected by asbestos-related diseases have the right to take legal action. Court-ordered trusts have been established by these negligent companies to compensate victims of asbestos-related diseases due to exposure from their products.
If you or a loved one was injured by carpentry-related asbestos exposure, whether directly or indirectly, you can get help. With over 40 years of experience in handling asbestos-related legal cases, Sokolove Law is a trusted resource for families seeking the justice they deserve for their injuries, pain, and suffering.