01. Asbestos Risk for Boiler Workers
How Are Boiler Workers Exposed to Asbestos?
Boiler workers may have been exposed to asbestos while making, maintaining and operating boilers. Many components on these high-temperature pieces of equipment contained asbestos. As a result, working around or on boilers could disturb the asbestos fibers. This could lead to workers inhaling or ingesting the mineral.
Boiler workers are one of the occupations most at-risk for asbestos diseases. These workers often show elevated rates of asbestos diseases, including mesothelioma.
Facts About Boiler Workers
- 14,900 boilermakers and 30,700 stationary engineers and boiler operators in the United States (2020)
- Asbestos Exposure: Previous and ongoing exposure risk
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: High
- Similar Occupations: Boilermakers, boiler operators, boiler tenders, HVAC workers
During their daily work, boiler workers were required to replace certain boiler components as they degraded over time. Many of these components were asbestos-containing products.
Asbestos was used in boilers to provide heat insulation. It was a standard part of boiler construction for many years. The industry used the mineral to provide a cheap, strong and heat-resistant barrier around boilers and different parts.
Manufacturers used asbestos in boilers starting around 1880. Companies continued to use the mineral throughout much of the 20th century. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to regulate asbestos use in the late 1970s.
However, boilers still pose a safety threat for workers today. A 2005 study found total sales of commercial and industrial boilers have declined. The study concluded up to 47% of boilers currently in use are at least 40 years old. This means today’s boiler workers still risk exposure to asbestos while working on older equipment.
Spending any amount of time around asbestos fibers may lead to developing an asbestos disease.
What Asbestos Products Put Boiler Workers at Risk?
Boiler workers may have been exposed to asbestos in several internal boiler products, including valves, steam traps and pipes. Asbestos was used in these materials for its strength and fire resistance.
Boiler workers may have been exposed to asbestos from:
- Adhesives and sealants
- Asbestos cement
- Asbestos insulation materials
- Asbestos rope
- Boiler covering
- Steam traps
For example, workers used asbestos gaskets to ensure a tight fit in the internal machinery of boilers. Boiler operators would have to remove and replace old gaskets.
Legal documents show this process could take anywhere from 20 minutes to one hour. Boiler workers have testified that the gaskets “baked themselves onto the product, so they had to be scraped and brushed off.” This process released asbestos dust. The airborne asbestos fibers could be inhaled or ingested by anyone in the vicinity.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates up to 180,984 workers are exposed to asbestos annually while repairing boilers.
Many companies manufactured, distributed and used asbestos-containing materials for boilers. These companies may have known about the dangers of asbestos. As a result of this negligence, boiler workers may be able to hold asbestos companies legally responsible for their diseases.
Manufacturers of Asbestos Products Used by Boiler Workers
- American Standard, Inc.
- Armstrong International, Inc.
- Babcock & Wilcox
- Bath Iron Works
- Burnham Corporation
- Cleaver-Brooks Company
- Combustion Engineering
- Crown Boiler Company
- Foster Wheeler Corporation
- Ingersoll Rand Company
- John Crane Company
- Murray Boiler LLC
- Pecora Corporation
- Riley Stoker Corporation
- Weil-McLain Company
- Yarway Corporation
Common Places Asbestos Is Found in the Boiler Industry
Boilers are essential components for many buildings, manufacturing plants and large vessels. Boilers produce high temperatures and steam. Thus, anywhere hot water was necessary, asbestos-containing boilers were likely to be found.
Locations where boiler workers may have been exposed to asbestos include:
- Boiler rooms
- Chemical plants
- Commercial buildings
- Engine rooms
- Manufacturing facilities
- Oil refineries
- Paper mills
- Power facilities
- Steel mills
There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. However, higher concentrations of asbestos pose an increased risk for a related disease, such as asbestos lung cancer. As a result, boiler workers who came into contact with asbestos in areas with poor ventilation were more likely to inhale or ingest the mineral. Boiler workers continue to face similar risks.
Boiler Workers and At-Risk Trades
Boiler workers may have been exposed to asbestos during their daily work. Exposure may have occurred during boiler manufacturing, installation or repair work. Other tradesmen and individuals in the vicinity of the boilers may also have been exposed to asbestos. Boiler workers and others continue to risk exposure today when working on old boilers.
Workers at risk of asbestos exposure from boilers include:
- Boiler operators
- Boiler repairers
- Boiler tenders
- HVAC workers
- Industrial workers
- Insulators/insulation workers
- Maintenance workers
- Merchant Marines
- Oil refinery workers
- Shipyard workers
Boiler workers may accidentally bring home asbestos fibers, leading to secondary asbestos exposure. This occurs when airborne fibers settle on a worker’s clothing, hair, skin or personal belongings. As a result, family members and loved ones can also develop an asbestos-related illness.
OSHA has set several safety guidelines to mitigate asbestos exposure for boiler workers. These regulations are meant to provide safe handling and disposal methods for at-risk workers.
02. Mesothelioma Risk for Boiler Workers
Mesothelioma Risk for Boiler Workers
Researchers have studied the effects of asbestos exposure on boiler workers for many years. While there is no safe level of exposure, prolonged exposure can cause health problems for boiler workers. Several studies report elevated levels of asbestos diseases for nearly every type of boiler worker.
- Boiler welders: Researchers in a 1996 Norwegian study found elevated levels of lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma among boiler welders.
- Boilermakers: In a 2021 study, researchers studied asbestos disease levels in boilermakers. They found elevated risk for malignant mesothelioma and asbestosis among the boilermakers.
- Boiler technicians: A 2018 study tested 114,000 military personnel, including those in occupations with frequent asbestos contact. Boiler technicians had some of the highest levels of asbestos exposure. They also had elevated mortality ratios compared to other military personnel with lower exposure risks.
Boiler workers and individuals who worked near boilers are still at risk for developing asbestos diseases. Any worker who believes they may have been exposed to asbestos in boilers should contact a mesothelioma doctor. A specialist can help monitor for signs and symptoms of asbestos-related diseases.
03. Compensation for Boiler Workers
Compensation for Victims of Occupational Asbestos Exposure
Boiler workers who develop an asbestos disease may be eligible for compensation from negligent parties.
Boiler workers have received millions of dollars in monetary awards for their asbestos illnesses. For example, a New Jersey jury awarded a boiler installer $7.5 million in 2015. He developed mesothelioma after 11 years of working as a boiler installer and HVAC worker. Mesothelioma lawyers successfully litigated this case against 11 defendants. Among these was Pecora Corporation, a manufacturer of asbestos furnace cement used in boilers.
In 2018, a Los Angeles jury awarded $8.45 million to an asbestos victim’s son. The victim worked as a plumber and pipefitter on Weil-McLain Company brand boilers. His work often involved exposure to asbestos insulation on the boilers while replacing gaskets. The victim passed away before the jury’s verdict, so the award passed to his son. The jury found Weil-McLain Company 60% responsible for the man’s mesothelioma diagnosis. As a result, the company was responsible for more than $5 million of the total award.
These are only two recent examples of successful compensation awards for boiler workers and their families. Other examples of successful cases include:
- An 86-year-old asbestos victim in Cincinnati, Ohio, received around $4.99 million. The victim served in the Air Force and was also a boilermaker. The victim was exposed to asbestos by several companies, including Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company, General Electric (GE), Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Stacey Manufacturing.
- A 71-year-old boilermaker in Trenton, New Jersey, received $4.57 million for their asbestos disease. Congoleum Corporation was at least partially responsible for the victim’s exposure and resulting illness.
- A 53-year-old Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, resident received $4.52 million for their asbestos disease. This asbestos victim served in the Navy and worked as a boilerman. The victim was exposed at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard from 1973 – 1975.
Experienced mesothelioma law firms can help boiler workers with asbestos-related diseases win compensation. Awards may come from a mesothelioma lawsuit, settlement or trust fund claim. If the boiler worker was a veteran, they may also be eligible for a VA claim.