How are Automobile Mechanics at Risk for Asbestos Exposure?
Nicole Winch | August 4, 2021
Throughout most of the 20th century there were many occupations that were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis. Among those occupations were automobile workers who inhaled these toxic fibers when working on cars.
Asbestos was affordable and used for its great insulation properties. It was fire resistant and could protect and prevent items from getting damaged. Asbestos is also extremely durable which is why it’s used to make automobile brakes.
Inhaling or ingesting these toxic particles is the main cause of a rare and aggressive cancer known as mesothelioma. Mesothelioma affects approximately 3,000 people throughout the United States each year.
There are multiple kinds of asbestos minerals, however, “chrysotile asbestos” is used most often in the automobile industry. Unfortunately, this type of asbestos has most likely put thousands of automobile worker’s health in danger.
What Exactly is Chrysotile Asbestos?
There are two main types of asbestos minerals: chrysotile or amphibole. The chrysotile type of asbestos is known as “white asbestos” and most commonly used in industrial applications according to the American Cancer Society. Chrysotile asbestos is not only found in automobiles, but is also in drywall, roofing materials, plastics and textiles.
Asbestos is prevalent in automobile brakes and clutches, making it easy for anyone who installs or repairs these parts to be exposed. Unfortunately, asbestos is so microscopic that it is almost impossible to tell if the toxic dust is on the brakes or clutch components. As a safety precaution, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that mechanics always assume there could be asbestos present when working on any car.
The automobile industry has relied on asbestos since the 1940s according to experts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Today, the use of asbestos in brake linings has not been completely abandoned.
How Were Automobile Workers Exposed?
When asbestos containing auto parts begin to break or disintegrate, tiny toxic particles can be released into the air and on the clothes of workers nearby. This makes it easy for mechanics to breathe in these harmful toxins or even transport them on their clothes to loved ones at home.
Repair shops are also known for their poor indoor air circulation and air quality. A lack of air flow and floating asbestos particles makes this occupation very dangerous.
Asbestos is only limited to brakes or clutches but can also be contained in:
- Heat seals
- Valve Rings
Asbestos exposure can occur when workers are installing new or repairing existing brakes. Part of the repair or removal process includes the task of “blowing out” the brakes surfaces (with an air hose). When installing new brakes mechanics will sand or grind the brakes to ensure a good fit.
Both of these processes are considered the most common ways for workers to be exposed. Since many people do opt to repair their vehicles at home they are just as at risk as to be exposed to these toxic fibers. The EPA recommends having brake jobs done at a commercial shop to avoid any exposure.