Asbestos in Automobiles
Asbestos is a unique mineral in that it was used in so many applications, that it could be found in nearly any industrial or commercial product. Among the many industries known for heavy asbestos use was the automotive industry. Asbestos was found in brake pads/shoes, gaskets, internal combustion components, and hundreds of other assorted automobile parts.
Asbestos possesses the unique ability to both insulate and prevent heat transfer, making it ideal for use in any number of automotive applications which are centered around the internal combustion engine and friction-based brakes. Many of those working in the automotive industry, including mechanics, technicians, and automobile manufacture plant employees are potentially at risk of harmful exposure to asbestos.
While asbestos was banned in most applications in the late 1970s in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission, many older automotive parts still contain the harmful toxin. Asbestos can also be found in trace amounts in newer products as well. Any person regularly encountering these products is potentially at risk of developing asbestos cancer.
Where Exposure is Known to Occur
Asbestos is a microscopic, albeit durable, mineral, making it ideal for inclusion in industrial compounds and mixtures. Asbestos can be woven in fiberglass, blended in paint, or used in applications like brake linings. While asbestos sits firmly in compound, it is not generally considered hazardous, as it must be released into the air to be considered harmful.
However, when asbestos is released from compounds like those used in automobile parts and components, it is easily inhaled. Asbestos must be considered “friable” to be released into the air. Friable asbestos is asbestos or asbestos components which are easily crushed or pulverized by pressures no greater than human finger pressure. Friable asbestos could be in powder form or included in some friable component. Unfortunately, friable asbestos is not difficult to find in the automotive industry.
Processes which render asbestos or asbestos-containing products friable are common practice in the automotive manufacture and repair industries. Simple processes like the sanding-down of brake rotors or linings can easily release asbestos into the surrounding air supply, endangering those in the area of asbestos inhalation.
When asbestos is inhaled, the body is unable to expel it from the inner tissue of the chest and abdominal cavities, a thin layer of cells known as the mesothelium. Inhaled asbestos fibers are the primary cause of extremely aggressive respiratory conditions like asbestosis and the rare cancer, mesothelioma.
Automotive Parts Containing Asbestos
Perhaps the most common automotive part known to contain asbestos are brake constructions. Asbestos was used in brake shoes, pads, and rotors. Brakes rely on the forces of friction to function properly. Friction releases a great deal of heat, which asbestos insulates against.
Clutches, like brakes, are built to withstand a great deal of friction and grinding. Asbestos was used to protect against corrosion and wear.
Heat seals were used to protect against heat transfer among many different engine and automotive body parts.
Gaskets were used in automobile hoses and engine parts. Asbestos was used to increase durability and prevent heat transfer for this purpose.
Hood liners protected the underside of the car’s hood from damage due to engine heat. Asbestos was used in hood liners and other automotive parts that were required to withstand heat damage.
While asbestos was adept at insulation and prevention of heat transfer, it was also durable, making it attractive for inclusion in fiberglass or plastic compounds from which auto body parts were made. Body parts that were modified or repaired could potentially release asbestos fibers, endangering those in the vicinity.
The internal combustion engine used in the great majority of all automobiles releases a great deal of heat. Engine components must be protected against that heat to function properly. In many instances, asbestos was used in the engine part components and compounds to serve this purpose.
The same asbestos that was used in engine components to protect against heat transfer could be used in body insulation materials to keep a car’s inhabitants warm or cool depending on the outside temperature.
Common Asbestos Exposure Practices
Brake Rotor Grinding
While in the process of sanding malformations in brake linings and rotors, asbestos is easily released into the air from previously stable compounds, endangering those in the vicinity of harmful exposure. Proper techniques to avoid inhalation of asbestos or other particles include clear ventilation systems and using a dust mask or similar device.
Vacuuming asbestos or asbestos containing dust is not a safe method of removing the material from the workplace. Asbestos fibers are microscopic and are easily disturbed when dust is churned around by a vacuum or fan. Even wiping with a moist rag will only scatter particles, leaving them throughout a jobsite, endangering those in the area.
The only truly safe way to clean asbestos is through the use of knowledgeable professionals who are licensed in the field of asbestos abatement or similar cleanup procedures.
Commercial automotive shops would be wise to examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s detailed guide for automotive safety with regards to asbestos. Shops performing more than five brake or clutch jobs each week are regulated differently than those performing less than five of these services.
For those shops performing more than five brake or clutch jobs per week, they are required to use one of two cleaning methods. The negative-pressure enclosure vacuum uses an enclosure around the brake or clutch assembly to prevent release of asbestos fibers. Low pressure cleaning method uses a low pressure spray and special basin to collect asbestos-laden runoff. For shops performing less than five brake or clutch jobs each week the wet-wipe method, using a simple spray bottle and cloth is typically able to remove the majority of all hazardous asbestos fibers.
What to Do if You Were Exposed
Many automotive manufacturer employees as well as automotive repair shop laborers could have been exposed to asbestos. Exposure was most common in those who engaged with asbestos products regularly, and even more so in those who repaired or regularly encountered damaged or compromised product. Unfortunately, many manufacturers of asbestos products we aware of the hazard their products presented but continued to produce them and endanger those who worked with them
If you or a loved one were exposed to asbestos in an automotive manufacturing plant, repair shop, or any other jobsite, we urge you contact us by completing the brief form on this page. We’ll rush you a complimentary asbestos exposure and mesothelioma information packet detailing common exposure sites, emerging therapies for asbestos-related disease, and legal options you may have. Find out more today.