Written By: Michelle Whitmer,
Last modified: July 29, 2021
Quick Facts
  • National Employment, 2021:
    1,024,100
  • Similar Occupations:
    Carpet Installers, Cement Masons and Terrazzo Workers, Construction Laborers and Helpers, Drywall and Ceiling Tile Installers and Tapers, Insulation Workers, Millwrights, Tile and Marble Setters
  • Previously Exposed:
    Yes
  • Still Being Exposed:
    Yes
  • Asbestos-Related Disease Risk:
    Moderate-High
  • States with Highest Employment:
    California, New York, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania

How Carpenters Were Exposed to Asbestos

Carpenter in attic with old insulation
Carpenters may encounter asbestos when working on older homes.

Part of a carpenter’s job description is remodeling commercial buildings and houses. Many of these renovations are made to structures that were built when asbestos was widely used. That means carpenters must cut away old asbestos-containing insulation and drywall and remove floor and ceiling tiles that may have had asbestos added to them to make them fireproof and soundproof.

When old asbestos-containing products are cut or disturbed in any way, asbestos dust is released into the air and onto the workers themselves. Carpenters who worked on construction projects before 1980 often handled asbestos sheets and were required to cut them into sizes that were appropriate for different applications. This also resulted in carpenters being covered in asbestos dust.

Veterans who worked as carpenters for the U.S. armed forces were exposed to asbestos while constructing and repairing military bases, which used many different types of asbestos construction materials through the 1980s. Active-duty carpenters serving overseas may be exposed to asbestos-containing products sourced from countries lacking asbestos regulations.

Asbestos Products Associated with Carpenters

Close-up of asbestos cement sheet
Carpenters often cut asbestos cement sheets during installation, which generated a lot of asbestos dust.

Carpenters working today in the U.S. are primarily at risk of asbestos exposure through old construction materials rather than new materials. Carpenters who install “reclaimed” older construction materials to help homeowners achieve a rustic look are at risk of exposure if the reclaimed material contains asbestos.

Any carpenter who works with roofing contractors may be exposed to asbestos in new roofing tiles manufactured internationally. The risk is reduced for carpenters compared to roofers because carpenters generally don’t directly handle roofing materials. Construction workers today face fewer asbestos exposure risks than in the past.

Carpenters regularly handled asbestos-containing materials, including:

  • Adhesives
  • Asbestos cement
  • Asbestos lumber
  • Asbestos sheets, boards and panels
  • Asbestos tiles
  • Caulking putty
  • Drywall
  • Felt
  • Insulation
  • Joint compound
  • Mastics
  • Paint
  • Siding
  • Vinyl flooring

Manufacturers Who Made Products Carpenters Use

Many different manufacturers made asbestos construction materials used by carpenters, including:

Ebonized asbestos lumber with Ambler logo
Asbestos lumber known for its resistance to heat and fire was made by Keasbey & Mattison in Ambler, Pennsylvania.
Keasbey & Mattison

This company manufactured many different types of asbestos-containing construction materials used by carpenters, including lumber, millboard, roll board, siding, sheets, insulation and cement. It was acquired by Nicolet and then Armstrong World Industries, which had to file for bankruptcy and establish a trust fund with more than $2 billion to handle future asbestos claims.

Congoleum Corporation

Congoleum manufactured asbestos flooring products. Its bankruptcy reorganization plan included an asbestos trust fund.

Johns Manville

This was one of the first companies to manufacture asbestos products. It made many different construction materials that carpenters used, including asbestos sheets, panels, lumber, caulking putty, insulating boards, felts, flooring and cement. Johns Manville was the first asbestos company to undergo bankruptcy reorganization to create a trust fund, which set precedence for all future asbestos manufacturers.

Georgia-Pacific

Georgia-Pacific manufactured asbestos joint compound and drywall adhesive under its name and a subsidiary named Bestwall. Georgia-Pacific and Bestwall were named in thousands of asbestos personal injury lawsuits before the Bestwall subsidiary was forced to file for bankruptcy and establish a trust fund.

U.S. Gypsum Corporation

This company manufactured asbestos-containing roofing, plaster, cement and adhesives. Its bankruptcy reorganization plan included an asbestos trust.

Mesothelioma and Carpenters

Studies of carpenters and asbestos exposure show they were exposed to significant amounts of asbestos and are at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.

  • A 2018 International Journal of Epidemiology study points to former carpenters as one of the highest-risk groups for asbestos-related cancer. According to data gathered by British researchers, carpenters are 34 times more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general population.
  • In a 2010 case study published in a Danish medical journal, physicians evaluated a 55-year-old carpenter who developed pleural effusion (buildup of fluid) in both lungs and pleurisy, an inflammation in the lining of the lungs that causes extreme pain when breathing. The carpenter was exposed to asbestos for six months in 1971 while working with roof sheets made of asbestos cement.
  • Researchers evaluated 127 buildings throughout the U.S. in a 1983 study and discovered that more than 50% of them had chrysotile-containing fireproofing insulation sprayed on ceilings. At the start of renovation activities by various workers, including carpenters, average asbestos fiber concentrations at workers’ breathing levels went from less than two asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter to 16.4 asbestos fibers when the material was left dry and removed.

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos can also cause lung cancer, ovarian cancer, laryngeal cancer and several benign pleural diseases. People who work jobs that encounter asbestos frequently are at a higher risk for asbestos-related diseases than the general public.

If you are diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease it is important to seek care from a doctor specializing in your diagnosis. These specialists work at some of the top cancer centers in the country. Seeking a second opinion from a specialist could help you live longer with the disease.  

Compensation for Carpenters Exposed to Asbestos

Carpenters who develop asbestos-related diseases have the right to file legal claims, including personal injury lawsuits and asbestos trust fund claims. Many companies that manufactured asbestos construction materials have gone bankrupt and established trust funds to compensate victims.

Loved ones also have the right to file wrongful death lawsuits when they lose a family member to mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. Carpenters who are veterans may additionally file VA claims to access medical care and compensation.

Recent lawsuits involving carpenters and asbestos exposure include:

  • A union carpenter who spent his career working on commercial buildings in New Jersey and Pennsylvania developed mesothelioma as a result of working with asbestos products throughout his career. He filed a personal injury lawsuit but died before his claim was resolved. In 2019, his surviving family carried on the lawsuit as a wrongful death claim and settled privately with defendants.
  • The family of deceased carpenter Searr Delcambre filed a wrongful death claim in 2008 against the A.O. Smith Corp., Union Carbide Corp. and other asbestos manufacturers. The family claimed Delcambre developed an asbestos-related cancer from working around the products manufactured by these companies. The lawsuit alleged the defendants were negligent for not adequately testing their asbestos-containing products before widely distributing them and for not warning consumers of the dangers of asbestos exposure. The outcome of this case has not been published.

An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can review your case and guide you to the types of claims you qualify to file. You may be eligible to file a lawsuit and multiple claims with asbestos trust funds.


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