Resources for Patients and their Families

Machinists and Mesothelioma

Machinists and Exposed Asbestos

Machinists can be found in a variety of industries engaging in different types of work. They can work in shipyards, manufacturing companies or construction firms. Some machinists are involved in skyscraper construction, some build ships and still others work on piping systems in commercial construction projects. Machinists generally work with machine tools like lathes, milling machines and machining centers to create precision cut metal parts. They must be meticulous in planning and executing their work so as to minimize errors. There are times when machinists create only a small number of specialized parts and on other occasions turn out large batches of parts, but in both instances all the parts they create need to meet a strict quality threshold.

Machinists are Frequently Exposed to Asbestos on the Job

Prior to extended asbestos exposure being recognized as a leading cause of pulmonary disease, machinists were frequently in a position of using products that contained asbestos. Because the grinding and machining processes created much heat and friction, asbestos was the material of choice used for insulation in high heat situations. In other instances, steam pipes and electrical wires were wrapped in asbestos paper and when it needed to be trimmed to size or replaced in a maintenance job, tiny particles of asbestos material were released into the air putting machinists at serious risk for developing a fatal disease whenever they inhaled it.

The finishing process for many of the parts that machinists produced, involved making and installing gaskets that contained asbestos and graphite. Typically the machinist would cut a gasket from an asbestos graphite sheet to perfectly fit the valve that needed a new seal or fit a newly created valve. They would next take off the old gasket and apply the new one or simply install the gasket on a newly produced valve. Both processes, creating the gasket and the removal of an old one in a replacement situation, had the potential of creating asbestos dust and releasing asbestos fibers into the air that the machinists could then inhale. The John Crane Company and Power Engineering are two companies that manufactured asbestos containing sealants and gaskets.

It was also not uncommon to see machinists wearing protective outerwear and blankets made with asbestos to protect them from high heat situations and to guard against being ignited by sparks. When these items became worn and started to fray, asbestos fibers easily became airborne. Not only were these particles dangerous because they could be inhaled, machinists would frequently bring these asbestos fibers home on their shoes, clothes and hair. As a result, family members were often subject to second hand exposure and were also at risk for developing a fatal disease.

Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer and Asbestosis are Common Diseases Found in Machinists

Machinists who worked in the trade were at serious risk for developing one of the diseases described below. It wasn't until the middle of the 70's that a strong link between asbestos exposure and pulmonary disease became common knowledge. Workers prone to inhaling asbestos dust on the job were at serious risk for developing mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis. Provided below is a brief description of each illness:


There are three mesothelioma types: pleural mesothelioma (lungs), peritoneal mesothelioma (stomach) or pericardial mesothelioma (heart). The only cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. This cancer attacks the lining within or surrounding the 3 major organs, and can metastasize from there to the organs themselves or elsewhere in the body. A favorable mesothelioma prognosis is not likely when diagnosed with the disease.

Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer

Often, smokers who were also exposed to asbestos on the job will develop cancerous tumors in the lungs. Smoking significantly raises the chance of developing lung cancer when combined with asbestos exposure.


Asbestosis is similar to mesothelioma. It is a condition where scar tissue build up in the lung area causes severe breathing problems and lowered blood flow, and is also only caused by asbestos exposure.

Lung cancer frequently takes up to ten years before symptoms start to show from the point that a person is initially exposed to asbestos. Even worse, mesothelioma cancer has a longer latency period and can take thirty, forty or more years for initial symptoms to appear. Symptoms may seem like nothing at first but they should not be ignored. They can involve chest pain, difficulty breathing, and persistent cough with blood in the sputum. The mesothelioma survival rate once diagnosed is quite grim.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari