Mesothelioma and Asbestos Risk for Auto Mechanics

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For decades, auto mechanics have experienced workplace asbestos exposure. Brakes and other common automotive repair and installation parts were often made with asbestos. As a result, auto mechanics may develop related diseases, such as mesothelioma.

01. Asbestos Risk for Auto Mechanics

How Are Auto Mechanics Exposed to Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral that was widely used for decades in the 1900s. Automotive companies added asbestos to products such as brakes, gaskets and electrical insulation. Reports from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show brake linings once contained 33% – 73% asbestos by weight. This data is from 1973, near the height of asbestos use in the United States.

Asbestos fibers are dangerous when disturbed and inhaled or ingested. Auto and heavy truck mechanics often handled asbestos parts, which put them at a higher risk of asbestos exposure than the average person. Asbestos exposure may result in health issues and diseases, such as mesothelioma.

In the 1970s, the United States regulated asbestos use. Anyone who worked with auto parts before that may still be at risk of long-term health concerns. However, asbestos products manufactured before restrictions may still be in use. Imported and after-market auto parts may also contain asbestos. Auto mechanics today may experience asbestos exposure if repairing cars with these parts.

Facts About Auto Mechanics
  • 733,200 auto mechanics in the United States (2021)
  • Asbestos Exposure: Previous and moderate ongoing exposure risk
  • Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: High
  • Similar Occupations: Aircraft mechanics, automotive body and glass repairers, small engine mechanics

What Asbestos Products Put Automotive Mechanics at Risk?

Asbestos is durable, cheap and fire-resistant. This made it a popular choice in the automotive industry for years. Manufacturers used it to fireproof various flammable car and truck parts, such as brake components.

Typical auto mechanic activities can stir up asbestos, leading to exposure. For example, research shows chrysotile asbestos was used in the braking systems of cars, airplanes and heavy equipment. As such, brake installation and repairs often create asbestos dust. Auto and heavy truck mechanics can inhale or ingest this asbestos brake dust or even carry it home on their clothing.

Because of these conditions, car and truck mechanics risk occupational asbestos exposure. They experience ongoing risk of exposure from repairing older vehicle parts. Imported car parts may also still contain asbestos, further causing risk of exposure.

Auto mechanics may have been exposed to asbestos from:

  • Air hoses
  • Asbestos blankets
  • Brake housings
  • Brake linings
  • Brake pads
  • Brake shoes
  • Brakes
  • Clutch discs
  • Clutch facings
  • Clutch linings
  • Disc brakes
  • Electrical wiring
  • Elevator brake shoes
  • Fiberglass body work
  • Fireproof materials
  • Fume hoods
  • Gaskets
  • Heat seals
  • Heat shields
  • Hood liners
  • Insulation
  • Packing
  • Plastic body work
  • Torque valves
  • Tractor parts
  • Transmission housing
  • Transmission plates
  • Valve rings

The automotive industry was a major manufacturer of asbestos products. Companies used it as an additive for decades, despite known health risks. Automotive stores and repair shops also continued to buy and sell these asbestos products. Imported parts from foreign manufacturers may still contain asbestos. These companies put professional and at-home auto mechanics at risk of exposure.

Manufacturers of Asbestos Products Used by Auto Mechanics

Common Places Asbestos Is Found in the Automotive Industry

Asbestos car parts were commonly used in auto repair shops to take advantage of the mineral’s fireproof qualities. Workers also face an ongoing risk of exposure when working with older or imported parts.

Asbestos-containing automotive parts can be found in various locations, putting mechanics at risk of exposure. Locations where mechanics may be exposed to asbestos include:

  • Automotive parts stores
  • Automotive repair and maintenance shops
  • Home garages
  • Vehicle restoration facilities

Mechanics can disturb asbestos through a direct activity, such as handling gaskets. However, car and heavy truck mechanics might also be indirectly exposed in other ways.

Activities in the workplace that may expose auto mechanics to asbestos include:

  • Brushing automotive assembly parts
  • Cleaning drum brakes with compressed air
  • Cleaning surfaces with squirt bottles or solvent sprays
  • Hosing down areas contaminated with asbestos dust
  • Regular repair activities on asbestos parts
  • Vacuuming with a shop vacuum
  • Wiping parts and surfaces with a rag

Auto mechanics may be beneath the vehicle or engine hood for extended periods of time. They often work with vehicles in enclosed spaces. Performing these activities without airflow increases the possibility of asbestos exposure.

Auto Mechanics and At-Risk Trades

There are many high-risk occupations in the automotive industry. Some employees work in repair shops, while others perform similar work on different machinery. Despite asbestos regulations on new products, exposure risks to employees still exist.

Workers in the auto industry previously handled asbestos-contaminated materials. Older vehicles or machinery may still contain asbestos parts. This poses an ongoing exposure risk among auto and heavy truck mechanics.

At-risk trades in the auto mechanics industry include:

  • Aircraft mechanics
  • Automotive body and glass repairers
  • Automotive electronics installers
  • Automotive parts manufacturers
  • Avionics equipment mechanics and technicians
  • Brake mechanics
  • Diesel service technicians and mechanics
  • Farm equipment mechanics
  • Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians
  • Industrial electronics repairers
  • Industrial machinery mechanics
  • Motorcycle mechanics
  • Small engine mechanics

In addition to mechanics, other auto shop personnel may be at risk of exposure. Mechanic techniques can release asbestos fibers into the air. This puts anyone in the vicinity of the release at risk of asbestos exposure.

While at-home auto mechanics do not work in a repair shop, they may face the same exposure risks. These individuals may come into contact with asbestos when restoring old cars. They may also use imported parts that contain the mineral. Professional and at-home mechanics should follow federal asbestos safety guidelines to prevent exposure.

02. Mesothelioma Risk for Auto Mechanics

Mesothelioma Risk for Auto Mechanics

Studies show auto mechanics who handle asbestos-containing brakes have a significant risk of being diagnosed with mesothelioma. The work auto mechanics do may require them to handle asbestos materials in unsafe ways. For instance, sanding or drilling parts that contain asbestos can cause fibers to become airborne.

Asbestos can lead to diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. Asbestos was a common additive for high-friction car parts. One of the top exposure concerns for auto mechanics is brakes.

In a 2018 epidemiological study, researchers looked at asbestos exposure and mesothelioma risk for auto mechanics during brake repairs. The researchers say the brake repair process puts mechanics in danger of exposure.

During brake removal, mechanics commonly use compressed air to blow out accumulated dust. This dust often contains chrysotile asbestos. During installation, mechanics bevel, sand and grind the brakes. This releases harmful asbestos fibers into the air. As a result, the mechanic and anyone in the vicinity risk exposure.

The researchers also analyzed past studies and data on the same subjects. They found a clear correlation between mesothelioma and handling asbestos brakes.

“There is an abundance of evidence that performing brake installation or repair releases substantial amounts of asbestos into workers’ breathing zones.… [A]sbestos from brakes can and does cause mesothelioma in workers handling asbestos-containing brake materials.”

These researchers say more must be done to protect auto mechanics from the dangers of asbestos. While there are federal asbestos regulations in the United States, there is not yet a full asbestos ban. Many other countries continue to use asbestos in various products, including automotive products. As a result, auto mechanics continue to risk asbestos exposure and related diseases.

03. Compensation for Auto Mechanics

Compensation for Victims of Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Auto mechanics throughout the U.S. have filed mesothelioma lawsuits against asbestos companies. These companies continued to expose workers to the mineral despite known health risks. Major automotive companies are often held responsible for their negligence. Mesothelioma patients and loved ones who file a lawsuit may find financial security and comfort for the future.

Washington Supreme Court Upholds Mesothelioma Verdict for $81.5 Million

In 2021, the Washington Supreme Court restored an $81.5 million jury award in a mesothelioma case. The family of a mesothelioma victim filed a wrongful death lawsuit. Their loved one had been an auto mechanic for decades. He used asbestos parts from Genuine Parts Company (GPC), sold by NAPA. The court ordered the two companies to pay the full sum.

Experienced mesothelioma lawyers can handle the legal process for patients and their family members. Auto mechanics who develop mesothelioma should discuss their compensation options with an attorney.

Auto mechanics who are exposed to asbestos at work may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim. Various automotive asbestos companies have also created asbestos bankruptcy trust funds. Auto mechanics may be eligible to file an asbestos claim against one or more of those trusts. An asbestos law firm can help victims understand their filing options.

04. Asbestos Safety

Asbestos Safety for Auto Mechanics

Specific asbestos regulations around removing and handling automotive brakes highlight the high risk associated with these common parts. Two federal standards professional mechanics should follow are listed below.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Current Best Practices for Preventing Asbestos Exposure Among Brake and Clutch Repair Workers

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): 1910.1001 App F – Work practices and engineering controls for automotive brake and clutch inspection, disassembly, repair and assembly — Mandatory

Auto mechanics should follow certain general safety practices, such as wearing protective gear. At-home mechanics should also follow these general practices to prevent exposure. Detailed OSHA directions vary by frequency of brake and clutch jobs mechanics perform.

Shops that perform four or fewer brake/clutch jobs per week can use the following method to prevent asbestos exposure:

  • Wet wipe method: Cleaning method that involves misting and wiping down asbestos parts

Shops that perform five or more brake/clutch jobs per week can use the following methods to prevent asbestos exposure:

  • Negative-pressure enclosure/HEPA vacuum system method: Specific vacuum and enclosure that helps contain asbestos dust
  • Low pressure/wet cleaning method: System that wets asbestos parts and catches contaminated runoff

In addition to these directions, OSHA recommends several extra steps that could help prevent exposure. These additional steps are not required. OSHA recommends mechanics use ready-to-install parts rather than ones that need to be ground, cut or drilled. The administration also recommends auto mechanics remove dirty work clothes before leaving their workplace. This can help prevent mechanics from bringing asbestos fibers home.

Although there are asbestos handling and disposal guidelines, no amount of exposure is safe. Continuing to tighten restrictions on asbestos products will better protect auto mechanics.