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Millwrights and Asbestos Exposure

Millwrights and Exposed Asbestos

History of the Millwright Trade

There are over 70,000 millwrights working in the United States today. Millwrights are a specialized group of workers that are responsible for installing and repairing heavy-duty machines and equipment. Some of the types of machinery they work on include conveyor systems, large turbines, boilers and generators - devices that generate and distribute heat and electricity throughout buildings. A millwright will also handle maintenance work on older equipment and disassemble systems that are beyond repair. This is a specialized trade requiring extensive training and the ability to execute work in a precise manner.

Millwrights are Frequently Exposed to Asbestos on the Job

Millwrights performed much of their work in construction related jobs and as a result were exposed to large quantities of asbestos for extended periods of time. The machines and equipment that millwrights work on, because they tend to generate heat and have the potential to cause fire, use asbestos containing insulation and gaskets to prevent fire and heat damage. While working on boilers, generators and turbines, millwrights would frequently have to precisely trim and fit asbestos coated metal and gaskets to size in order to complete a job. In the cutting and grinding process asbestos fibers would become airborne for the millwrights to inhale. The inhalation of these airborne fibers resulted in severe occupational risk for these workers if proper protective gear was not used. Until the mid 1970's the risks associated with asbestos exposure were not widely known so the necessary protection was generally not used and millwrights were susceptible to breathing in this toxic substance.

The dismantling of outdated equipment or machines that were beyond repair is also the responsibility of the millwright. This involves removing old asbestos insulation and taking apart the machine entirely. This process, performed frequently, was also a source of dangerous asbestos exposure.

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

Provided below are short descriptions of the 3 primary pulmonary diseases caused by extended asbestos exposure. It's important to keep in mind that it sometimes takes 10 years for lung cancer to develop and as many as 40 years for mesothelioma and asbestosis to begin to show up. It is not uncommon for a millwright to be exposed to asbestos in their 20's and not be diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma until they are in their 50's or 60's. Family members could also be at risk due to second hand exposure from the asbestos fibers carried home on work clothes and shoes by the millwright. The asbestos-related diseases include:


Mesothelioma cancer is a malignant disease that attacks the lining in or within the lungs, stomach and heart. The only cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Common diagnoses include pleural mesothelioma (lungs), pericardial mesothelioma (heart), peritoneal mesothelioma (abdomen). All three types of mesothelioma have a long latency period and a poor overall prognosis.

Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer

Exposure to asbestos can cause lung cancer. The chances of developing lung cancer can be almost doubled if a smoker is exposed to asbestos.


Asbestosis is a pulmonary disease that is also only caused by asbestos exposure and results in scar tissue build up in the lung(s) which severely inhibits breathing.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari