While no longer a common practice, cabinetmakers of the past used asbestos-related materials in the construction of new cabinetry.
As with most workers in construction trades, cabinetmakers and other wood artisans are at increased risk for exposure to asbestos and asbestos-related items. Starting in the 1930s, asbestos-laced paper liners were commonly used in cabinetmaking. While the practice was discontinued in the 1970s, cabinetmakers who have used the older methods or who have participated in the demolition and removal of old cabinets may have experienced exposure to free-floating asbestos particles. Historically, some adhesives have also contained asbestos and the use of those adhesives, while woodworking may have provided additional exposure.
Cabinetmakers working in the new construction or remodeling segments of the building trades may have experienced a greater exposure through secondary risks than through the primary risks of woodworking. Exposure to asbestos fibers released in the demolition of an old building site often released air-born asbestos that had been used in the manufacture of tiles, fireproofing, flooring, roofing and other regularly-used construction materials. There has also been legal action against the manufacturers of heavy machinery often utilized at construction job sites because of asbestos used in brake pads and high-friction gaskets. While many of these exposures have been lessened in recent years, workers who have been in construction and construction woodworking trades for a number of years will likely have had a dramatically increased exposure to asbestos-related materials.
It is generally accepted that certain jobs are more dangerous than others. Even so, most people in today's society have come to expect worker safety to be an important concern of employers, enforced by government regulations. When it came to asbestos exposure, however, these expectations were not always met, and even in recent history employees were placed in situations that had serious, sometimes deadly, consequences.
The Varieties of Asbestos and Their Health Effects
Asbestos is broken into two categories. Chrysotile, sometimes called "white" asbestos, is the only member of the serpentine category and was the kind most commonly used. This is a relatively soft variety that is not normally associated with asbestos cancer or mesothelioma. However, if breathed in, serpentine fibers can result in irritation to the interior surfaces of the lungs. Asbestosis can be the outcome when scar tissues accumulate in the lungs.
The second classification is called amphibole asbestos; of the two types, it is considered deadlier. A relatively unusual, but often fatal, disease caused by asbestos called mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, particularly the amphibole varieties. The pleural form of the disease, one that attacks the tissue that lies between the lungs and the pleural cavity, is the most prevalent. Pericardial and peritoneal mesotheliomas, which damage tissue surrounding the heart and stomach, respectively, are less common but also caused by extensive contact with amphibole asbestos.
The Strengths of Asbestos
Ironically, asbestos was used when erecting building and in manufacturing numerous products because of its ability to save lives. The serpentine form of asbestos is one of the best insulators known when it comes to combustion and heat and has been used for this purpose for centuries. Amphibole forms of asbestos also had other traits that made them useful for industrial situations. Amosite, for instance, has a high iron content, making it impervious to caustic chemicals. "Blue" asbestos, or crocidolite, was commonly found in areas with electrical equipment since it is highly resistant to electrical current. ACMs (asbestos-containing materials) that protected lives and property against flames, heat, electrocution and chemical burns could be made by combining different kinds of fibers.
As long as it was solid, asbestos posed almost no danger. As these ACMs aged, however, they became friable (i.e., easily reduced to powder by hand pressure alone). Asbestos particles, when friable, can be easily dispersed into the air, where they can cause health problems after they are inhaled or ingested. Unless strict safety measures, such as the use of on-site showers, were enforced, it was quite possible for people to bring home asbestos on themselves or their clothing, thereby putting those around them at risk.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
One of the insidious aspects of asbestos exposure is that associated diseases can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to manifest - frequently long after a worker has retired from the employer. With such a lag between exposure to asbestos and the manifestation of symptoms, the worker may not connect the current condition with work done decades earlier. Especially with mesothelioma, the earlier it is caught, the better the odds of surviving or at the least of improved quality of life. Those that worked as cabinetmakers, and those who spent much time with them, should therefore tell their physicians about the chance of asbestos exposure. As mesothelioma survival rate traditionally has been grim, early diagnosis and treatments including mesothelioma radiation can improve the prognosis for this disease.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)
Bradley, Kenneth - Asbestos Verdict Against Caterpillar is a First, Plaintiff Counsel Says
Inspectapedia - Forms and Products in Which Asbestos Was Used
University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Indoor Air Quality for Health
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal