History of the Automotive Mechanic Trade
Automotive mechanics are specially trained technicians specializing in car / truck maintenance and repair. Because many of the mechanical components in a car create friction and/or heat, asbestos was a long favored product used in these parts due to its natural ability to resist heat. Asbestos is frequently found in brake parts, clutch facings, transmission parts, brake pads and linings and more.
Some automotive products that were made with asbestos are: brake linings, clutch facings, transmission components, disc brake pads, drum brake linings, brake blocks, gaskets and others.
Auto Mechanics are Frequently Exposed to Asbestos on the Job
Working in an Auto shop can pose significant occupational hazards for auto mechanics, even today. The environment in auto shops is often asbestos dust-filled. Prior to the 1970's asbestos was the main insulation material used in common replacement parts such as brakes, gaskets, transmission parts etc. for both cars and trucks. Since the 1970's asbestos usage in these parts is more regulated but still exists in older cars and trucks and people may not be aware of this. In fact, there are a lot of modern day mechanics that do not understand that they face the risk of exposure every day. Second hand exposure may also be a risk for other employees that do not work on cars or trucks. When the asbestos dust and fibers get into the air it is very difficult to not breathe it in.
The nature of auto mechanic work lends itself to creating asbestos dust. Unfortunately not all workers are educated in the occupational risks and hazards associated with working in an auto shop and believe that if they do not directly inhale dust that they will not be affected. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many auto shops, especially today do provide respirator gear but a lot of mechanics believe they "get in the way" or are unattractive. Family members were also put at risk because the mechanics would come home with the asbestos dust on their clothes, shoes and hair.
Brake and clutch replacement is a common job that auto mechanics perform. The process of installing new brakes requires that mechanics file, sand and drill the brake pads and linings to get them on the car and they create hazardous dust in the process. Brake and clutch maintenance service usually requires that they be "ground down" to rejuvenate the brake linings. This also results in spilling dangerous asbestos fibers into the air of the shop. Even if a wet rag is used to attempt to minimize dust, asbestos fibers are still present once the rag dries.
Asbestos fibers also collect in the brake drum during the driving process. Brakes shoes are applied to the drum which creates friction. This asbestos dust spills into the auto shop when brake replacement or maintenance work is scheduled on the vehicle.
There are a number of companies that manufactured asbestos-containing car and truck parts. They include Johns-Manville, Owens Corning, Bosch, Dana Corp, Raybestos, Cooper Industries and RPM Int'l.
Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer and Asbestosis are Common Diseases Found in Auto Mechanics
The dangers of asbestos exposure were becoming very obvious by the middle of the 1970's. There were more and more occurrences of workers developing pulmonary disease including lung cancer, asbestosis and the most severe form of asbestos cancer - mesothelioma. This was particularly evident in workers who had extended exposure to asbestos dust and fibers in an occupational setting. We will explore these illnesses in a little more detail:
Mesothelioma is a severe form of cancer. The only certain cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. It can attack one or more areas but is generally seen in the lungs, the area surrounding the heart or in the abdomen. The organs themselves are not affected; rather it is the lining surrounding them that is attacked. Pleural mesothelioma is most commonly seen and involves the lining inside the lung. Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the stomach lining and pericardial mesothelioma affects the lining around the area of the heart.
Asbestos Related Lung Cancer
Unlike mesothelioma, lung cancer can develop from exposure to a variety of substances. However, workers exposed to asbestos that also have a smoking history have a higher risk of developing lung cancer because the exposure can result in cancerous tumors that block the airways.
Asbestosis is a disease also caused exclusively by asbestos exposure where the exposure causes scar tissue to build in the lungs making it difficult for a person to breathe.
It is very common for much time to elapse from the end of asbestos exposure to the onset of an asbestos related disease. Oftentimes lung cancer will not show up until ten years after a person was exposed to asbestos and there is an even longer latency period for asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer. In those cases it can be as long as 30 or 40 years! Mesothelioma symptoms are often dismissed as common ailments in the early stages but can include chest pain, difficulty breathing, and a dry cough that may show blood.