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Plumbers may be exposed to asbestos from pipe systems and other products. Before the 1980s, pipes, valves and adhesives were commonly made with asbestos. Asbestos use in the plumbing industry caused many individuals to experience exposure. As a result, plumbers risk developing an asbestos-related disease.


01. Asbestos Risk for Plumbers

How Are Plumbers Exposed to Asbestos?

Asbestos was once used in a variety of plumbing products. The use of these products in the plumbing industry put plumbers at risk of asbestos exposure.

For instance, plumbers maintain pipe systems that carry hot liquids and steam. Asbestos insulation was often used to protect pipes from high temperatures and corrosion.

During installation, plumbers may have experienced exposure from cutting or sawing asbestos insulation. Plumbers also handled products such as asbestos joint compound and cement while repairing pipes.

Facts About Plumbers
  • 490,200 plumbers in the United States (2019)
  • Asbestos Exposure: Previous and ongoing exposure risk
  • Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Moderate
  • Similar Occupations: Pipefitters, steamfitters, electricians

For decades, many plumbers experienced consistent occupational exposure. Plumbers were often unaware of the dangers of asbestos. In the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created laws and regulations to protect plumbers and other workers from asbestos.

In the 1980s, asbestos manufacturing declined. However, asbestos-containing pipes are still present in many buildings. As a result, some plumbers may still risk exposure from lingering asbestos materials.

What Asbestos Products Put Plumbers at Risk?

Plumbers may experience exposure from a variety of asbestos products. Asbestos insulation, gaskets and valves were once widely used in plumbing systems. Asbestos products made pipes more durable and heat resistant.

During installation or repair, asbestos fibers from these products may release into the air. Airborne asbestos puts individuals nearby at risk of exposure. Plumbers may have been exposed to asbestos from:

Many companies were responsible for manufacturing these asbestos products. These companies often knew about the health risks associated with asbestos. Despite that, many companies continued to manufacture these products. As a result, asbestos companies now face lawsuits from exposure victims.

United States laws now prohibit companies from manufacturing asbestos products. However, asbestos is not banned in the U.S. Products made with up to 1% asbestos may still be imported into the country. This includes certain types of insulation. As a result, plumbers face a continued exposure risk from these products, as well as from preexisting asbestos products they encounter in their work.

Common Places Asbestos Is Found in the Plumbing Industry

Workers in the plumbing industry work at residential and industrial jobsites. Locations that often expose plumbers include:

At the height of asbestos use, plumbers often worked in boiler rooms and other poorly ventilated areas. Poor ventilation may lead to an increase in the concentration of airborne asbestos fibers.

In many cases, employers also did not provide plumbers and other workers with proper protective equipment. These conditions put workers at higher risk of asbestos exposure.

Other At-Risk Trades in the Plumbing Industry

In addition to plumbers, other workers in the plumbing industry also risked asbestos exposure. For example, pipefitters and steamfitters were responsible for installing and repairing asbestos pipes.

Pipefitters and steamfitters cut asbestos insulation. They also drilled other products to fit on pipes. While sawing, sanding or cutting these products, asbestos dust may have been released into the air. This put workers at high risk of inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers.

Today, plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters should not attempt to remove asbestos-containing materials. Improper asbestos removal may lead to exposure. Asbestos abatement professionals are trained to safely remove and dispose of asbestos.

02. Mesothelioma Risk for Plumbers

Mesothelioma Risk for Plumbers

Studies show plumbers are at higher risk of asbestos exposure than the general population. Plumbers who experience exposure may develop asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma.

In 1998, Canadian researchers studied the lung imaging scans of plumbers, pipefitters and welders. Among the three groups, researchers found plumbers had the highest number of abnormalities on their imaging scans. The researchers noted instances of diffuse pleural thickening among this group.

In another study, UK researchers found high levels of asbestos exposure among industrial plumbers. Researchers found work areas with the highest concentrations of fibers had been recently stripped of asbestos. According to the study, this suggests poor asbestos cleanup and removal practices put plumbers at risk.

Inhaling or ingesting asbestos may cause fibers to embed in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Over time, irritation in these areas can lead to mesothelioma or asbestos cancer.

Plumbers with known asbestos exposure should maintain regular doctor appointments and cancer screenings. Mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases may take decades to present after initial exposure. This means plumbers exposed in the past may still develop a related disease.

03. Compensation for Plumbers

Compensation for Victims of Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Plumbers who developed mesothelioma after occupational asbestos exposure may seek financial compensation. Mesothelioma attorneys can help victims and their loved ones understand their legal options.

Attorneys also help their clients build a case and file a claim within the legal deadline. Legal deadlines, or statutes of limitations, may differ from state to state.

Examples of Plumber Lawsuits

Retired Plumber Awarded $2 Million

James A. Lovelace was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma after decades of asbestos exposure. Lovelace worked as a plumber, mechanic and HVAC technician. Lovelace believed he experienced asbestos exposure throughout his career. The jury awarded Lovelace approximately $2,070,000 in economic and non-economic damages.

Former Plumber and Steamfitter Received $1 Million

A former plumber and steamfitter from New York City was diagnosed with mesothelioma. After the diagnosis, the claimant filed a mesothelioma lawsuit. For several years, the claimant worked as a plumber and steamfitter at Bush Terminal Company in Brooklyn, New York. The claimant received a settlement of more than $1 million.

Many plumbers and family members have received compensation by filing a claim or lawsuit. Successful mesothelioma lawsuits may result in compensation from a settlement or jury award. Compensation may help patients and their loved ones cover medical expenses and other costs.

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