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Mesothelioma and Asbestos Risk for Boiler Workers

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Jennifer Lucarelli Lawyer and Legal Advisor

Boiler workers may have been exposed to asbestos at work. This includes boilermakers, operators, repairers and tenders. These workers may have been exposed to asbestos in gaskets, insulation, pumps and other products. Exposure to these materials can result in asbestos diseases, such as mesothelioma.

01. Asbestos Risk

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 appliances contained asbestos. Working on boilers could disturb the asbestos fibers. This could lead to workers inhaling or ingesting the mineral and developing related illnesses.

Boiler workers are employed in one of the occupations most at risk for asbestos diseases. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates 180,984 workers face asbestos exposure during boiler repairs annually. Data indicates these workers have elevated rates of asbestos diseases, including mesothelioma.

Facts About Boiler Workers

  • 13,700 boiler workers and 33,500 stationary engineers and boiler operators in the United States (2022)
  • Asbestos Exposure: Previous and ongoing exposure risk
  • Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: High
  • Similar Occupations: Boiler welders, HVAC technicians, steamfitters

During their daily work, boiler workers replaced certain degraded components. Many of these components contained asbestos.

Asbestos provided heat insulation in boilers. As such, it was a standard material in boiler construction for many years. The industry used the mineral as a cheap, heat-resistant barrier around boilers and other parts.

Manufacturers started using asbestos in boilers around 1880. Companies continued to use the mineral throughout much of the 20th century. By the late 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to regulate asbestos use.

Boilers still pose a safety threat to today’s workers. A study found total sales of commercial and industrial boilers declined between 1964 and 2003. The study concluded up to 47% of boilers in use at the time were at least 40 years old.

What Asbestos Products Put Boiler Workers at Risk?

Several internal boiler pieces were known sources of asbestos exposure for boiler workers. These include valves, steam traps and pipes. Asbestos was used in these materials for its fire resistance and strength.

Boiler workers may have been exposed to asbestos at jobsites from:

Boiler operators commonly removed and replaced old gaskets. The gaskets ensured a tight fit inside the boilers. 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 into the air, which could be inhaled or ingested.

Boiler companies distributed, made and used asbestos-containing materials. Many of these businesses knew about the dangers of asbestos, but they continued to use the mineral and jeopardized their employees’ health and safety. Workers for these companies can seek compensation if diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.

Common Places Boiler Workers May Find Asbestos

Boilers are essential components for many buildings, manufacturing plants and large ships. Boilers produce high temperatures and steam. Any buildings that use boilers to provide hot water may contain asbestos, especially older buildings.

Locations where boiler workers may have been exposed to asbestos include:

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Regular, sustained exposure to asbestos poses an increased risk for a related disease, such as asbestos lung cancer.

Boiler Workers and At-Risk Trades

Boiler workers may have been exposed to asbestos during manufacturing, installation or repairs. Other tradesmen and individuals in proximity to boilers may also have been exposed. Anyone who works on old boilers could still be at risk of asbestos exposure.

Occupations at risk of asbestos exposure from boilers include:

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. It is possible for family members and loved ones to develop an asbestos-related illness from this type of exposure.

02. Mesothelioma Risk

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. Studies have reported elevated levels of asbestos diseases for several types of boiler workers.

  • Boilermakers: Researchers looked at mesothelioma rates in different occupations. They found elevated risks for mesothelioma and asbestosis among the boilermakers.
  • Boiler technicians: A study reviewed health records of 114,000 atomic veterans. Among them, boiler technicians had a much higher than normal risk of dying from mesothelioma. The authors attributed this risk to occupational asbestos exposure.
  • Boiler welders: Norwegian researchers found higher than expected levels of lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma among boiler welders.

Anyone who worked on or near boilers may still be at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. Boiler workers who may have been exposed should contact a mesothelioma doctor to check for relevant signs and symptoms.

03. Compensation

Compensation for Boiler Workers With Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Boiler workers who develop asbestos diseases may be eligible for compensation. Several boiler workers have been awarded millions of dollars for their asbestos illnesses.

A New Jersey jury awarded a boiler installer $7.5 million in 2015. After 11 years as an installer and HVAC worker, he developed mesothelioma. Mesothelioma lawyers built a successful case against 11 defendants. Among these was Pecora Corporation, a manufacturer of asbestos furnace cement.

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 with asbestos insulation. The jury found Weil-McLain Company 60% responsible for the man’s mesothelioma diagnosis. The company was responsible for over $5 million of the total award.

Other examples of successful cases for boiler workers and their families include:

  • An 86-year-old Air Force veteran and boilermaker in Cincinnati, Ohio, received around $4.99 million. Several companies exposed the victim to asbestos, including Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company, General Electric, Procter & Gamble and Stacey Manufacturing.
  • A 71-year-old boilermaker in Trenton, New Jersey, received $4.57 million for their asbestos disease. Congoleum was found partially responsible for the victim’s exposure and resulting illness.
  • A 53-year-old in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 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.
  • The family of a Southern Pacific Railroad boilermaker was awarded $6.95 million for the victim’s asbestos-related death. The victim faced frequent exposure at Southern Pacific’s Sacramento Locomotive Shops. He passed away from malignant mesothelioma 10 days after his deposition.

Experienced mesothelioma law firms can help boiler workers with asbestos-related diseases seek compensation. Options may include filing a lawsuit, submitting a trust fund claim or pursuing a Veterans Affairs (VA) claim. Lawsuits may provide compensation through a verdict or a settlement. An asbestos attorney can advise which of these options may work best for an individual case.