Asbestos in acoustical plaster was exremely common in homes and businesses for two primary reasons: style and function. This plaster is sprayed on walls and ceilings. The most well known example of this is the “popcorn ceiling“. Besides the look, it also had the benefit of absorbing sound and reducing the amount of echoes from noise generated in rooms.
Acoustical plaster was previosly made with asbestos, and applied in homes and buildings all over the world.
Over time the plaster coating becomes likely to crack or break apart, and that allows tiny particles of asbestos to be released into the air. People become subjected to inhaling them and that can be extremely dangerous and deadly. Aside from this hazard, the workers who put the acoustical plaster on the ceiling or walls in the first place were put at great risk. They were responsible for mixing the plaster and spraying it on. At any point in this process they could have easily inhaled enough asbestos to develop deadly diseases.
According to researchers at Mount Sinai Medical School, asbestos in acoustical plaster in older buildings is a continuing health risk to the public. Specifically, these structures may have acoustical plaster or acoustical finishes that contain asbestos, a toxic mineral that can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Although not dangerous when intact, acoustical plaster made with asbestos often erodes with age, releasing high concentrations of asbestos fibers into the air.
Asbestos was used as a binding material in hundreds of construction materials from the 1930s until the EPA banned its use in 1973. However, existing asbestos-containing materials, including acoustical plaster and acoustical finishes, were exempt from the ban. Thus, even homes and schools built after 1973 may contain materials that have asbestos as a component. For example, acoustical plaster containing asbestos was still being used as a finish for ceilings in the 1980s.