All Types of Construction Jobs at Risk for Asbestos Exposure
Remodel Asbestos Exposure is Often Accidental
The construction groups considered most at risk for asbestos exposure include insulators, cement workers, sheet metal workers, plumbers, pipefitters, electricians, and drywall installers. Roofers, tile setters, and flooring installers may also be exposed when they replace, repair, saw, or cut tiles or shingles containing asbestos (Buildings and Construction Trades Department, AFL–CIO).
All types of construction workers may come into contact with asbestos during maintenance, remodeling, or demolition of old buildings. A construction worker can also unwittingly place family members in danger by exposing them to asbestos dust that is carried home on the worker’s clothing or body.
Insulators may cement, staple, wire, tape or spray asbestos insulation in buildings to reduce energy use. They also install materials in refrigerated storage rooms, vats, vessels, boilers, and steam and hot water pipes to prevent the transfer of heat. Another method employed by insulators is to use compressors to blow loose–fill insulation into house attics or exterior walls of uninsulated buildings.
Insulators generally work indoors, and the job is often dusty and dirty. Small particles from insulation materials, especially when blown, can get into the insulator’s eyes, skin, and respiratory system. They were often heavily exposed to the asbestos in insulation materials.
Today, removing asbestos insulation in remodeling or demolition projects can be especially risky and appropriate precautions should be taken. Workers must follow prescribed asbestos removal techniques including sealing and depressurizing the area that contains asbestos and removing it using special filtration cleaners and devices. They should wear protective suits, masks, and respirators. Work areas should be well ventilated. See the section on asbestos worker safety for details about Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.
Sheet Metal Workers
Sheet metal workers install and maintain ducts used for ventilating, air conditioning, and heating systems. They also are involved with roofing, siding, gutters, and downspouts. In their work, they may have been exposed to asbestos insulation or asbestos–containing tiles used in roofing. In the state of Washington, for example, many sheet metal workers used Zonolite, an insulating material made from asbestos–contaminated vermiculite ore mined in Libby, Montana. In early 2001, the Sheet Metal Union and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning National Association (a contractors’ group) sponsored screenings to test union members in Washington and elsewhere for asbestos–related diseases (Spokesman Review, Vol. 15–27, February 8, 2001).
Plumbers and Pipefitters
Plumbers install and repair the water, waste disposal, drainage, and gas systems in homes and in commercial and industrial buildings. Pipefitters install and repair pipe systems that are used in manufacturing, in the generation of electricity, and in heating and cooling buildings.
Plumbers and pipefitters are often exposed to asbestos–cement pipes used for water and sewer lines, drainage, and ventilation. Asbestos insulation has been used around pipes, and asbestos mud was used to fill in cracks and elbows on pipes. Also, they may have removed deteriorated asbestos pipe covering; replacing it with new pipe covering.
Electricians may have been exposed to asbestos–containing pipe, electrical insulation, or building insulation. They are also subject to exposure when doing maintenance or remodeling work in older buildings that are contaminated with asbestos.
Many dry wall products, such as joint compound, contained asbestos which could be inhaled while mixing the dry compounds and when sanding the walls. Asbestos also is contained in some dry wall tape, plaster, and wall–patching compounds. Blown ceilings are another source of asbestos contamination.