Dangers of Drywall?
December 29, 2012 1:52 PM   Subscribe

I've been spending time in a house that's been recently drywalled and textured, including sweeping up drywall dust. Are there health implications? Should I be wearing a dust mask? How long until the place is "safe" to be in without a mask?

I ask because I don't feel great after spending a few hours there. I feel a bit light-headed and tend to cough, not a lot, but more than I normally do. When I blew my nose just now, I noticed some blood mixed with the mucus. I'd like to think all of this is unrelated, but it is making me just a bit paranoid.

I got much more paranoid after googling "bloody nose drywall" and "health hazards drywall" and came upon sites about some imported batch of "toxic drywall," asbestosis / mesothelioma, and radioactive phosphate.

Is there something here worth worrying about? I'm hoping for reassurance that I haven't destroyed my health and that this worry is unnecessary. But I'd also appreciate advice about what precautions to take going forward, and (if there is a real health risk) how to find out what I've exposed myself to and how I can mitigate that (if at all).

I'm hoping this is not a big deal, as I'm not a professional drywall taper with thousands of hours of on-the-job exposure. I'm a homeowner who has spent a total of 20-30 hours inside a home as it's been being drywalled and textured, spread over a month. (The longest exposures were 2 nights when I slept there to protect the place, since the drywallers had had to uninstall some of our security precautions.) Now I'm indoors to tape things off in preparation for painting the place. As part of that prep, I have been taping paper to the floor and in the process, sweeping up drywall dust. Should I be wearing a mask? Is there a way to check whether the joint or texture compound, or the drywall itself, is of some particularly "toxic" sort? Is there anything I can do to mitigate any sort of exposures I might have had?
posted by slidell to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
It's gypsum dust. It'd bad for you because it's bad to breathe dust, not because it's toxic. It could lead to silicosis (miner's lung) if you were chronically exposed.

Yes you should wear a mask, no you don't need to worry about this level of exposure beyond that.

posted by cmoj at 1:59 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

A gentle suggestion: To help reduce your anxiety about this, please, never again get any kind of health information from a lawsuit-mill website.
posted by sageleaf at 2:02 PM on December 29, 2012 [9 favorites]

Wear a mask for sweeping up the dust, you can probably get a package of them for around $5 or so. If you can remove it with a damp rag instead, that will get far less dust into the air.

I wouldn't be worried over your health with this small amount of dust, but this will be more pleasant if you reduce the amount of dust you are breathing in. What you have observed is typical of being in any very dusty area.

How long until the place is "safe" to be in without a mask?

Until you finish cleaning, it will be dusty.
posted by yohko at 2:14 PM on December 29, 2012

As folks are saying - drywall today isn't anything special, it's just regular particulate matter, which is bad for you to breathe so it's good to wear a mask when you're dusting. This is also true if you are, say, cleaning dust and cobwebs from an abandoned house, or a particularly dirty place, etc. It's just good practice; no one exposure is likely to do you much harm, but might as well not end up coughing, sneezing, and scratchy-throated.

Asbestos IS special - mesothelioma is bad - but the risk there is from working on old building materials that you don't know what's in them (i.e., the ceiling in my apartment complex was made with asbestos, so as part of our lease/contract/disclosures we were told not to drill holes in it). We don't use asbestos in drywall any more - since, I want to say, the 1980s? Construction workers, people working on existing houses, etc. have to be worried about it since they don't know when the drywall there was made, and they may be sanding or drilling holes that produce a lot of dust.
posted by Lady Li at 3:04 PM on December 29, 2012

We don't use asbestos in drywall any more - since, I want to say, the 1980s?

so far as i know, asbestos was never common in drywall itself. It was somewhat in drywall mud and plaster for awhile but never extensively and not since about 1950 from what I have read. This kind of dust is nothing to worry about for a one time short term exposure. Wear a cheap mask and the unpleasant temporary symptoms will disappear. Humans are not that delicate and we have lots and lots of natural ways to keep dust out (pretty much what boogers are).
posted by bartonlong at 3:19 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

You will be fine! Like everyone else is saying, drywall dust is an irritant and could harm your health if you were breathing it in every day (like if you worked in a drywall factory or on a drywall installation crew) but you have not done yourself any significant harm by sweeping it up in your house. It is not especially toxic or carcinogenic, just irritating. That said, you'd do well to wear a simple dust mask when working with it in the future.

Relax, though! You've nothing to worry about.
posted by Scientist at 10:25 AM on December 30, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I'm generally not sensitive to dust, so I was worried there was something special about this dust. It's good to hear this is just a normal reaction.
posted by slidell at 1:37 PM on December 30, 2012

Do you have Chinese Drywall? Some people report respiratory problems.
posted by Gungho at 10:15 AM on December 31, 2012

Response by poster: I have US-made drywall from National Gypsum. There have been similar reports of sulfur contamination, but one court dismissed those claims.
posted by slidell at 3:25 PM on January 3, 2013

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