In Finland, as in many other countries around the world, asbestos products were used throughout a good portion of the 20th century. Workers encountered asbestos in many forms and it was used in myriad applications, including insulation.
Individuals in Finland also mined large amounts of anthophyllite asbestos from days of the early 20th century until the use of the mineral was banned in 1975.
A study recently conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, however, showed that the individuals with the highest risk of developing mesothelioma – asbestos-related cancer – were not the miners in that country but were the workers who were charged with the task of applying spray-on asbestos insulation in homes and businesses during the middle part of the century.
“Asbestos sprayers were at the highest risk of mesothelioma and lung cancer,” wrote study author Dr. Pia Nynas.
The study also followed individuals who had worked in Finnish shipyards and in the general construction industry and were exposed to asbestos materials while on the job.
It really is no surprise that those who literally sprayed asbestos particles through the air and into a particular space were the individuals most harmed by the material.
Asbestos is inhaled when it becomes airborne, so spraying asbestos means particles were constantly circulating through the air. Asbestos sprayers should have been wearing heavy-duty respirators that prevented asbestos dust from entering workers’ lungs, but there is no indication that these precautions were always taken.
Spray-on asbestos was used not only in Finland but in the U.S. and a host of other countries as well. In this country, a variety of companies made this product.
One of the most widely-used and well-known products of this sort was Monokote®, which was manufactured by W.R. Grace and Company, the corporation responsible for the Libby, Montana asbestos disaster.
Other companies that manufactured similar products included:
- Armstrong Contracting and Supply Corporation (AC&S)
- Kaiser Gypsum
- National Gypsum
- Turner and Newall
- United States Gypsum
Insulation workers who worked directly with these products were the most at risk, of course. But other construction workers also came in contact with the spray-on insulation and may have been affected, including framers, sheetrock workers, electricians, plumbers, and many others in the trade.
It’s important to also remember that there are homes that still contain this kind of insulation, so construction workers and DIYers are still at risk of encountering old, damaged spray-on insulation while working on older homes. Hence, precautions should always be taken to avoid exposure.