Dusts From Drywall-Joint-Compound Mud May be a Serous Lung Hazard, NIOSH Finds

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CPWR - The Center for Construction Research and Training

Summary Statement

The summary of a NIOSH study showing that "nuisance dust" from joint-compound mud used in drywall work can contain toxic materials. They recommend engineering controls as well as personal protective equipment.
May 1998

A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has shown that "nuisance dust" from joint-compound mud used in drywall work can contain toxic materials. And, there can be dangerously high amounts of dust from sanding and other drywall work.

NIOSH conducted a Health Hazard Evaluation of dust and toxic exposures to 10 renovation workers at 2 sites doing drywall finishing. Measuring the air the workers were breathing, NIOSH found 9 of 10 total-dust samples at higher levels than limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). More important, 2 of 13 samples of respirable (breathable) dust were above the limits OSHA says are safe. Two samples contained respirable silica. Silica can cause crippling and fatal lung diseases.

"The health effects associated with long-term chronic airborne exposure to the dust or particulates generated during drywall sanding are not known," the report said, adding that even when the dust amounts are within recommended limits, they may not be safe. This is especially true, the report said, when parts of the dusts are known to have a "biologic effect."

Besides silica, another material in the dusts that may be unsafe is kaolin. Found in clay, kaolin causes pneumoconiosis, or permanent lung damage.

For the study, NIOSH also bought drywall-joint compound at stores in Ohio, to test for minerals and examined 8 of the workers for health problems. The researchers found the workers' main complaints related to the dust were eye irritation and nasal congestion.

The report recommends engineering controls (such as local-exhaust ventilation), wet-finishing techniques, and personal protective equipment to limit exposures to dusts during drywall.

The study was done at sites in Washington, D.C., and Buffalo, New York, in 1993 but only published in October 1997. CPWR had requested the work. For a free copy of the report, HETA 94-0078-2660, call 1-800-35NIOSH.

The NIOSH researchers and other members of the Controls Work Group, have produced a 7-minute video, Drywall Dust Engineering Controls. The video shows how to use the controls to protect workers. It is available from CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training for $7 postpaid.