Gypsum is a mineral calcium sulphate dihydrate with the chemical formula CaSO4·2H2O a non-hazardous, non-toxic, inherently safe material.
Gypsum-based plasters and plasterboards in the UK have no known adverse effect on health and are classified as non-hazardous. The industry adheres to very strict quality controls for the manufacture or disposal of UK plasterboard.
Gypsum as used by the members of GPDA has been registered in accordance with REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & restriction of CHemicals). The overall conclusion in accordance with the REACH regulation is that there are no hazardous classifications associated with either mined or by-product gypsum.
Gypsum products are not classified as dangerous according to EU CLP Regulations.
There are no long term adverse medical effects from ingestion of gypsum. If ingested, wash out the mouth and drink plenty of water.
Plaster powders/dust potentially may irritate eyes or sensitive skin or irritate the respiratory system. Any effects should be short term. Rinse with water and wash from skin. If in doubt contact a medical practitioner.
The UK and Irish manufacturers – British Gypsum, Gyproc, Knauf Drywall and Siniat – make their plasterboard products to strict specifications on gypsum purity. Whether they use natural gypsum (calcium sulphate dihydrate) or FGD gypsum (a by-product from flue-gas cleaning at power stations), manufacturers inspect all material continually to ensure quality and performance of the product. In use, plasterboard with FGD or natural gypsum is inert. Also, it does not change chemical composition, so can be recycled again and again.
Suitable care and correct handling should be used when handling gypsum products.
By voluntary agreement, gypsum plaster sacks are a maximum of 25kg.
Plasterboard handling should be assessed for risk before lifting and carrying. All standard plasterboard has safety information printed on the board. Mechanical aids are available and should be considered in the overall risk assessment.
A guide to Manual Handling supported by GPDA and our member companies has been published and is available here.
The journey of plasterboard from factory to site involves many people, all of whom need to be able to work with a reduced risk of injury. The risk is predominantly due to the weight and unwieldy nature of the plasterboard.
Any manual handling needs to be minimised by good planning and using equipment. There needs to be good training and implementation of those practices. Most importantly, everyone needs to have the right attitude and behaviour so that no one in the industry is exposed to short or long-term risks that will affect their musculoskeletal health and ability to do their everyday activities, now or in the future.
GPDA members assisted with the Guide produced by FIS on Safe Ingress of Plasterboard available here.
The majority of plasterboard construction waste is recycled, either into new plasterboard, in the production of cement or for agricultural use. The flow of plasterboard waste to landfill will continue to decrease with further emphasis on clean waste recycling, actively championed by all four manufacturers.
There has been good progress towards finding ways to recycle plasterboard demolition waste – at the present time it cannot return to the plasterboard manufacturing process, but it can be used for agricultural soil improvement.
If gypsum waste must be landfilled, it is controlled by specific Environment Agency rules. As a non-hazardous high-sulfate waste, there is a risk that large volumes of gypsum waste mixing with rainwater and organic waste materials could produce hydrogen sulphide, therefore it is not permitted in mixed waste but must be landfilled in dedicated, non-hazardous ‘high sulfate’ landfill cells, which minimise impact on the environment. These cells are a potential exploitable source for recycled gypsum for the future.
In addition to its uses in building products and soil improvement, gypsum is also widely used in bread and dough mixes, as a stabiliser in other foodstuffs, as an aid to juice extraction in fruits and vegetables and to stimulate plant growth. Gypsum has no known adverse effect on health.
Gypsum is non-combustible and prevents flames from spreading.