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By Treven Pyles
Posted on June 16th, 2020
Throughout the 20th century, asbestos was widely used in the automotive industry and as a result, a large number of automobile mechanics who were involved in the repair and manufacturing of automobiles got exposed to asbestos. Automobile mechanics who work on older vehicles can come in contact with asbestos-containing products.
Until the late 1980s, the use of asbestos in the automobile industry was unregulated, which means that all those who worked on automobiles before this period were routinely exposed to asbestos present in certain parts of automobiles. Asbestos was often used in brake pads, clutch linings, gaskets, insulation components, and other parts of automobiles that involved friction. These components wore off over time and released tiny asbestos fibers into the air in the workstation, which was either inhaled or ingested by automobile mechanics.
Automobile mechanics spend much time in inspection, repair, and maintenance of equipment in automobiles to keep these in proper condition and safe for use. As part of their daily responsibilities, generally, automobile mechanics perform replacement and maintenance of brake and clutch equipment during which they will file, grind, sand, or drill the brake pads and lining.
While replacing the brakes, the old parts were removed and this task would give rise to a lot of asbestos dust that landed everywhere within the poorly ventilated workstation, which used to be inhaled by automobile workers.
The tiny asbestos fibers can spread as far as 75 feet from the working area and linger in the air for a long time after a job is done, thus exposing other mechanics. Further, asbestos fibers can spread into the surrounding air through the vacuum used to clean the workstation during and after the job. Airborne asbestos fibers can deposit on the hands of automobile mechanics as they would often have grease on their hands. An automobile mechanic would also carry asbestos dust home on work clothing thus exposing the family members to the hazardous substance.
An estimated 900,000 automobile mechanics in the United States have been exposed to asbestos dust from brake and clutch work. The two common ways these mechanics were exposed to asbestos include their routine tasks such as:
Because of its strength and heat resistance properties, asbestos was used as a major component in the brakes of automobiles. According to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the year 1973, the use of asbestos was at an all-time high, and brake linings contained about 33%-73% asbestos by weight, because of which over 30 million kilograms of asbestos got released during the use of the linings every year. Chrysotile asbestos was used in the braking system of automobiles.
Other components in automobiles that contained asbestos include electrical insulation, gaskets, valves, heat seals, engine heat shields, and hood liners. Though most of these newer components do not contain asbestos, nearly 740,000 automobile mechanics working in the United States currently continue to be at risk of asbestos exposure as certain imported brake pads or friction products may contain asbestos.
According to the study conducted by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, it was found that the high asbestos exposure levels at brake repair shops could place at least 1 in 10 automobile mechanics who did not use protective equipment at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. This is particularly true in the case of automobile mechanics who were exposed to asbestos in the past because back then, there were no proper asbestos regulations and workplace safety practices.
Automobile mechanics ended up breathing dangerous asbestos fibers every day on their job. The asbestos fibers got trapped in the lungs and eventually accumulated there leading to scarring and inflammation. Over time, the DNA in the cells get damaged and cause uncontrolled cell growth (cancer).
The occupational asbestos exposure experienced by automobile mechanics may lead to an elevated risk of developing the following conditions:
People with pleural disease resulting from asbestos exposure are at an increased risk of developing lung cancer later in life. Besides lung cancer, other cancers that are linked with asbestos exposure in automobile mechanics include:
The following benign conditions are also linked to asbestos but would require screening to find the asbestos fibers in the lungs and be eligible to file a claim: