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Asbestos was used in many products in the automotive and aircraft industries. Components such as brakes, clutches and heat shields contained the mineral. As a result, mechanics are at high risk of occupational asbestos exposure. Asbestos exposure can lead to serious illnesses, such as mesothelioma.


01. Asbestos Risk for Mechanics

How Are Mechanics Exposed to Asbestos?

Automotive products contained asbestos for much of the 20th century. The mineral was used to assist with heat resistance, increase durability and prevent erosion and wear. However, when the products did begin to degrade, fibers were released into the air. As a result, mechanics were at risk of occupational asbestos exposure. Asbestos exposure can lead to dangerous illnesses, including mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Facts About Mechanics
  • 756,600 mechanics in the United States (2019)
  • Asbestos Exposure: Previous and ongoing exposure risk
  • Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Moderate
  • Similar Occupations: Service technicians, automotive workers

Asbestos was used in many automotive products. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports show brake linings contained 33 – 73% asbestos by weight. This data is from 1973, near the height of asbestos use in the United States.

At this time, older cars contained asbestos in many brake components, clutches and other automotive parts. As a result, professional and hobbyist mechanics risked exposure from asbestos parts.

Today, domestic manufacturers have stopped using asbestos in their products. This is due, in part, to EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. However, aftermarket products from other countries may still contain the mineral.

As a result, mechanics may still be at risk of asbestos exposure from new foreign-made and old brakes.

What Asbestos Products Put Mechanics at Risk?

From the 1930s to the 1980s, many products contained asbestos. These included components used in vehicles, exposing mechanics and other technicians to asbestos.

Chrysotile asbestos was used in the braking systems of cars, airplanes and heavy equipment. Mechanics could also find asbestos in electrical insulation, gaskets and valves.

Asbestos exposure was most likely to happen when these parts were installed, serviced or removed.

For example, brake jobs require many of these actions. When employees put new brakes onto a vehicle, the old parts must be removed. As a result, asbestos brake dust could be released into the air. Replacing these parts with new asbestos products could also release fibers.

Mechanics may have been exposed to asbestos from:

  • Air hoses
  • Asbestos blankets
  • Automotive exhaust systems
  • Brake drums
  • Brake housings
  • Brake linings
  • Brake pads
  • Brake shoes
  • Cockpit heating systems
  • Clutch facings
  • Electrical wiring
  • Engine and electrical insulation
  • Exhaust pipes
  • Gaskets
  • Heat seals
  • Heat shields
  • Hood liners
  • Packing
  • Tractor parts
  • Torque valves
  • Valve rings

Many companies manufactured asbestos products used by mechanics. For example, popular vehicle manufacturers, including Ford and General Motors, used asbestos brake components. These products were also sold by retailers, such as Advance Auto Parts.

Manufacturers and Retailers of Asbestos Products Used by Mechanics

  • Advance Auto Parts
  • Austin Auto Parts Inc.
  • AutoZone
  • Bendix, a division of Honeywell International
  • Borg-Warner Automotive, Inc.
  • Canton Auto Parts, Inc.
  • Cleveland Wheel & Brakes
  • Daimler Chrysler
  • Federal-Mogul
  • Ferodo
  • Fisher Auto Parts, Inc.
  • Forest CITY Auto Parts Company, Inc.
  • Ford Motor Company
  • G & T Auto Parts of Mid Orange, Inc.
  • General Motors
  • Genuine Parts Company
  • Globe Foreign Auto Parts, Inc.
  • Goodrich
  • Goodyear
  • John Deere International
  • LAS Replacement Parts, Inc.
  • L M Scanlon, Inc. (individually and as successor to Scanlon’s Auto Parts, Inc.)
  • O’Reilly Automotive, Inc.
  • Parker-Hannifin Corporation
  • Pep Boys
  • Pneumo Abex LLC
  • Potsdam Auto Parts, Inc.
  • Raybestos
  • Raymark Industries
  • Ren Auto Parts

Today, classic cars may still contain older asbestos products. Technicians and at-home car mechanics should assume classic car parts may contain asbestos.

Additionally, up to 1% of asbestos is still allowed in certain products. As there is no safe level of asbestos exposure, these products still pose a health threat.

Inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers puts individuals at risk of developing asbestos diseases, including asbestosis.

Common Places Asbestos Is Found in the Automotive Industry

Asbestos fibers present a health hazard to anyone exposed. Exposure among mechanics can happen from direct contact with asbestos products or due to proximity to jobs using the mineral.

Locations that often exposed mechanics include:

  • Automotive maintenance shops
  • Auto parts stores
  • Cargo bays
  • Cockpits
  • Home garages
  • Manufacturing plants
  • Repair shops
  • Vehicle restoration facilities

Enclosed areas may present an increased risk of inhalation or ingestion due to lack of ventilation. Without proper airflow, fibers may become highly concentrated in the air. This can increase the number of fibers entering the body. However, any amount of exposure has the potential to lead to serious diseases, such as asbestos cancer.

Mechanics and At-Risk Trades

Mechanics from many industries were at risk of exposure. Asbestos products were used in many cars, trucks, buses, aircraft, heavy machinery and farm equipment. As a result, tradesmen from a variety of industries were exposed to asbestos.

At-risk mechanics and other trades in the industry include:

  • Aircraft mechanics
  • Automotive body and glass technicians
  • Automotive mechanics
  • Auto parts manufacturers
  • Assembly line workers
  • Brake mechanics
  • Diesel technicians and mechanics
  • Farmhands
  • Heavy vehicle repair and maintenance workers
  • Industrial workers
  • Shadetree mechanics
  • Small engine mechanics
  • Truckers

People who handled asbestos-containing products were at high risk of exposure to the mineral. Additionally, other individuals not working directly with these products may also have been exposed. For example, janitorial staff in service shops may have been exposed to asbestos dust during cleanup.

Secondary exposure may also have affected consumers and the loved ones of mechanics. Secondary asbestos exposure occurs when asbestos fibers settle on surfaces and are then disturbed later on. For instance, family members may experience this when doing a mechanic’s laundry.

02. Mesothelioma Risk for Mechanics

Mesothelioma Risk for Mechanics

Although most asbestos use came to an end several decades ago, imported and classic products may still contain the mineral. As a result, mechanics are still susceptible to exposure and resulting asbestos-related illnesses.

Many studies have documented the connection between automotive industry professionals and asbestos diseases.

Colombian Research Finds Increased Risk of Asbestos Diseases for Brake Workers

Research from Bogotá, Colombia, examined asbestos exposure in auto repair shops. Researchers sampled asbestos concentrations in the air and the bodies of ten repair shop workers over six days. Samples were collected from brake mechanics, riveters and administrative staff.

At the end of the period, riveters had the highest asbestos concentrations. The researchers also performed respiratory health evaluations of the workers. Thirty percent of the workers exhibited pleural thickening. Two of those workers also had calcified pleural plaques. The researchers concluded brake repair shop workers “could be at excessive risk” of developing an asbestos disease.

Another study also documented asbestos fiber concentrations in brake repair workers. Researchers found these workers had elevated levels of asbestos fibers in their lungs compared to the control group. The highest concentration of fibers consisted of tremolite asbestos fibers, which are typically sharp.

03. Compensation for Mechanics

Compensation for Victims of Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Mechanics exposed to asbestos may be able to receive compensation after developing an asbestos illness. Compensation can come from workers’ compensation claims, lawsuits or asbestos trust fund claims.

Mesothelioma and asbestos lawsuits can result in large awards from verdicts or settlements. Settlements are legal agreements between the defendant (typically the worker or their loved ones) and the plaintiff (the asbestos company).

Mesothelioma verdicts are decided in court by the jury.

California Man Awarded $1.5M for Ford Asbestos Exposure Lawsuit

In November 2012, a jury awarded mechanic Patrick Scott $1.5 million in damages and legal costs for his asbestos exposure lawsuit. Scott’s lawsuit against Ford Motor Company alleged exposure to asbestos in the company’s brake linings.

Court records show Ford brakes contained asbestos as late as 1975. Yet, the company did not put disclaimers on brake packaging until at least 1980. Records also cited an internal Ford memo documenting mesothelioma rates among company employees. The investigation found mesothelioma rates nearly three times those of the general population in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 2014, a California State Supreme Court ruled in favor of Scott again. This ruling allowed him to sue for further damages beyond the original award.

Individuals wishing to pursue compensation should contact a mesothelioma lawyer. Experienced lawyers can help mechanics decide which option is best for their situation.

04. Asbestos Safety

Asbestos Safety for Mechanics

The Environmental Protection Agency and OSHA have regulations to protect auto mechanics from asbestos. Many of these practices center around brake and clutch repair jobs.

OSHA’s Toxic and Hazardous Substances standards have specific rules for automotive shops. Commercial automotive repair shops must use one of several methods to ensure asbestos exposure is limited during a brake job.

These regulations concern how to handle asbestos materials in professional shops, including:

  • Using a negative-pressure enclosure or HEPA vacuum system
  • Using a low-pressure/wet cleaning system
  • Using a wet wipe method (acceptable only in work areas where five or fewer brake and clutch jobs take place per week)

OSHA also recommends preventing exposure by taking several extra (non-required) steps, including:

  • Using ready-to-install parts, rather than ones that need to be ground, cut or drilled
  • Removing dirty work clothes before leaving for the day (to prevent asbestos fibers leaving the repair shop)

In addition to OSHA’s professional recommendations, the EPA urges home mechanics to take safety precautions. The agency’s list of dos and don’ts closely follows the OSHA rules. However, those inexperienced with brake and clutch repair should not attempt to handle asbestos parts.

Following precautions closely can help prevent developing an asbestos-related disease.

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