Manufacturers once commonly mixed asbestos into many types of mastics, sealants and cements used in construction and shipbuilding. Damage or renovation work can also disturb and release toxic fibers from dried-out asbestos adhesives still present in millions of old structures.
Written by Michelle Whitmer Edited By Walter Pacheco Scientifically Reviewed By Dr. Jerald L. Cook
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How to Cite Asbestos.com’s Article
Whitmer, M. (2022, December 20). Adhesives. Asbestos.com. Retrieved May 25, 2023, from https://www.asbestos.com/products/adhesive/
Whitmer, Michelle. "Adhesives." Asbestos.com, 20 Dec 2022, https://www.asbestos.com/products/adhesive/.
Whitmer, Michelle. "Adhesives." Asbestos.com. Last modified December 20, 2022. https://www.asbestos.com/products/adhesive/.
Asbestos Sealants, Adhesives, Mastics and Bondings
Mixing asbestos fibers into natural and synthetic glues results in durable, nearly fireproof adhesives, sealants, bonders and joint fillers. Builders use adhesives for all types of permanent installation work. Though people once saw asbestos products as safe and reliable construction materials, they are now a known health hazard.
Heavy-duty adhesives are often referred to as “construction mastics,” which may take the form of paste applied from a caulking gun or powder that is mixed and applied like cement. Asbestos was used in liquid construction mastics, conventional lime-type cements and synthetic plastic cements. It was also a primary ingredient in gunning mixes, a type of spray-applied powdered adhesive that is mixed with water as it is applied.
When working with asbestos-containing mastic and gunning mix, fibers are released if the material is ground, drilled, cut or abraded. Renovation and demolition projects also damage these materials, which can lead to asbestos exposure.
Gunning mix was often made with vermiculite and aluminum. The vermiculite used in gunning mix may be contaminated with asbestos. Before the mix is made into a paste, it comes in powder form and is packaged in bags. Asbestos fibers in opened bags can easily become airborne when gunning mix is being measured and mixed.
While most companies now use alternatives to asbestos sealants and adhesives, their use is not banned in the U.S. The only types of adhesives banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are spray-on adhesives containing more than 1% asbestos and asbestos flooring felt adhesive. Though asbestos adhesive manufacturing ended in the U.S. in the 1990s, the product remains in many parts of old buildings today.
Where Are Asbestos Adhesives Found?
Asbestos adhesives may still be found in the floors, wall panels, interior fixtures, ceilings, roofs, air ducts, pipes and boilers and furnaces of old buildings and houses.
Asbestos adhesives were used to install wood floors, vinyl tiles and other types of flooring. One of the most common flooring adhesives is called “black asbestos mastic.”
Wallpaper and wall panels were commonly installed using asbestos adhesives. When wall panels are removed, the adhesive left behind is often visible as brittle old daubs.
Asbestos adhesives were used in the finishes of countertops, cabinetry and other fixtures.
Ceiling tiles were glued in place using asbestos-based glue pods, which become brittle over time and release many toxic asbestos fibers into the air when disturbed.
Asbestos was a common ingredient in plastic cements and sealants for rooftops. Over time, weathering exposes the white asbestos fibers in asbestos-containing sealant, causing it to turn from black to grey.
Even duct tape commonly contained asbestos fibers before the mineral’s toxicity was widely known.
“Lagging” is a way of sealing and insulating pipes with strips of cloth soaked in adhesive, and asbestos-containing materials were once standard for this purpose.
Boilers and Furnaces
Special cement adhesives, often called “furnace cement,” are required for installing and repairing machinery that operates at high temperatures. Asbestos was a primary ingredient in fireproof cements and joint compounds, especially in industrial facilities and ships.
Companies Associated with Asbestos Adhesives
|A.P. Green Industries||Steelplant Castable B, Castable Mix 204|
|Amchem Inc. (Benjamin Foster Company)||Black Cat Roof Coating|
|Armstrong World Industries||S-89 Adhesive, S-90 Adhesive|
|Celotex Corporation||Carey Fibrous Adhesive, Careytemp Adhesive|
|Combustion Engineering Inc.||Stick-Tite Insulating Cement, WeatherKote Protective Duriseal|
|Empire Ace||Stic-On Cement|
|Georgia-Pacific Corporation||Triple Duty Joint Compound|
|Harbison-Walker Refractories Company||H-W Lightweight Castable #10|
|Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company||3M Adhesive, 3M Caulk, 3M Cement|
|Mobile Oil Corporation||Armorcote Adhesive, Dum-Dum Adhesive|
|National Gypsum Company||Gold Bond All-Purpose Joint Compound, Gold Bond Adhesive|
|North American Refractories Company||Narcocast, Narcocrete, Narcolite|
|Johns Manville||Asbestogard Adhesive, Duxseal|
Other companies that manufactured asbestos adhesives include:
- A.W. Chesterton Seal
- American Biltrite
- Amtico Floors
- Asbestos Corporation Ltd.
- Atlas Asbestos
- Congoleum Corporation
- Crown Cork and Seal
- Foster Wheeler
- GAF Corporation
- Garlock Sealing Technologies
- H.B. Fuller
- Insul-Mastic Corporation of America
- Owens Corning Fiberglas Corporation
- Uniroyal B.F. Goodrich
Diseases Asbestos Adhesives Can Cause
People exposed to asbestos adhesives may develop asbestos-related diseases including lung cancer, mesothelioma and other cancers. The risk of exposure is greater in people who worked with asbestos adhesives.
Exposure to asbestos-containing adhesives may cause the following diseases:
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
- Benign pleural abnormalities such as pleuritis and pleural plaques
Doctors treat the above cancers with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. The benign conditions are controlled with medication and different types of therapy such as respiratory therapy.
Existing Occupations at Risk
Compensation for Exposure to Asbestos in Adhesives
Thousands of workers harmed by asbestos exposure have filed lawsuits against asbestos adhesive manufacturers, seeking compensation for medical costs and suffering.
- In the 1990s, for example, two engineers filed lawsuits against North American Refractories Company, claiming they developed mesothelioma using the company’s gunning mix. Frederick Moss worked for Alabama Power Company and Martin Easter worked for U.S. Steel. Both were exposed to high levels of asbestos dust using NARCO gunning mix products, and they were never advised to wear protective gear. A jury found NARCO liable and awarded $7 million to Moss, Easter and a third plaintiff who suffered from asbestosis.
- In 2006, U.S. Navy veteran Joseph Garza filed a lawsuit against Asbestos Corporation Ltd. after he developed asbestosis using the company’s asbestos adhesive cement to repair boilers on the USS Randall and the USS Agerholm for nearly 10 years. Because the company did not issue any warnings over the asbestos in its product, Garza did not take any precautions against breathing in the dust or getting it on his clothes and hair. A jury in San Francisco ultimately awarded him and his wife more than $11.5 million after finding the corporation acted with malice in not revealing the health risks associated with asbestos exposure.
Many companies in the asbestos industry have established trust funds as part of bankruptcy reorganization plans to make settlements with claimants. These trusts exist to settle personal injury and wrongful death claims resulting from asbestos exposure connected to bankrupt companies.
For instance, NARCO emerged from bankruptcy in 2008 by funding the North American Refractories Company Asbestos Personal Injury Settlement Trust with $6.32 billion. The National Gypsum Company Bodily Injury Trust has paid more than $429 million in claims since 2004, including to victims exposed through Gold Bond adhesive products.
Other forms of compensation include VA claims, Social Security Disability and treatment and travel grants. You may speak with a qualified mesothelioma attorney to learn more about your legal options for mesothelioma compensation.
Abatement and History of Asbestos Adhesives
Asbestos sealant and adhesive removal is best left to qualified asbestos abatement professionals, especially when old asbestos glue daubs have become friable (easily crumbled by hand). Asbestos dust can be minimized by wetting the adhesive material and then scraping it by hand, but even then, the professional must be wearing protective gear and a high-efficiency particulate air mask to stay safe from asbestos exposure.
The adhesives used in numerous homes, businesses and public buildings constructed before the 1990s often contain between 1% and 25% asbestos, depending on the purpose of the adhesive. These asbestos products can become hazardous as the adhesives turn brittle and break down over time, potentially releasing asbestos fibers into the air. Asbestos-containing seals may wear down, flake or peel away.
Black construction adhesives in buildings constructed before the 1990s should always be tested for asbestos. Sanding, scraping or grinding these adhesives can release toxic asbestos dust into the air, endangering everyone in the building.
Some asbestos adhesives can be removed using chemical solvents, but these chemicals are not compatible with all types of adhesives and they can damage or stain the subfloor. Check with the manufacturer about using chemical solvents.
The use of asbestos adhesives in the U.S. spans almost a century, with one of the earliest examples dating back to 1887, when the precursor of the Johns Manville Corporation began manufacturing fibrous adhesive cement that contained 20% asbestos. In 1906, the Philip Carey Manufacturing Company began selling an asbestos-based fibrous adhesive for more general construction use.
Many asbestos adhesives were produced by first dumping raw asbestos into a fluffing machine to separate the mineral fibers before they were combined with resins or solvents in a batch-mixing tank. This industrial process exposed adhesive factory workers to clouds of inhalable asbestos dust. Spray-applied asbestos adhesives further endangered the health of the construction workers who applied them.
World War II multiplied the demand for asbestos adhesives, especially in newly constructed Navy ships where fireproofing of all kinds was important. The U.S. military remained a top consumer of asbestos adhesives long into the Cold War, while civilian use also expanded.
In the 1950s, the National Gypsum Company added asbestos-containing adhesives and joint compounds to its popular Gold Bond line of construction products, which went on to become standard materials used throughout the construction industry.
By the mid-1980s, almost 10 million gallons of asbestos adhesives, sealants and coatings were being produced annually. The rising tide of lawsuits over asbestos-related diseases, however, finally compelled most manufacturers to stop adding asbestos to adhesive products.