Overview and History of the Sheet Metal Worker Trade
The first known examples of sheet metal processing date all the way back to the 16th century, when a process known as "rolling" reduced metal to thin strips through the application of compressive force. In 1887, a gentleman named Robert Kellerstrass recruited local tinsmiths to comprise what is now the trade union known as the Sheet Metal Workers International Association. This union organization is currently 150,000+ members strong. Today, sheet metal workers can manipulate and craft many different kinds of metals through more modern techniques such as stretching, drawing, deep drawing, cutting, bending, flanging, punching, shearing, spinning, and pressing. Sheet metal workers are primarily responsible for installing, assembling, maintaining and repairing everything from roofing, siding and gutters to HVAC systems, plumbing and precision industrial equipment. Some workers specialize in building and systems testing. A wide range of skills and tools are employed on the job, as workers are called upon to cut, drill, measure, bend, shape, bolt, cement, weld, rivet, solder, form, fabricate and fasten various (often customized) parts using hammers, saws, shears, punches, drills, calipers, micrometers, and even lasers. Up to five years of extensive on-the-job and/or vocational training is required for a sheet metal worker to become truly skilled at the craft.
Sheet Metal Workers Are at Risk for Asbestos Exposure on the Job
Unfortunately, sheet metal workers are likely to have come into contact with asbestos-containing materials (ACM) during the course of their work in the trade. The dangers and toxicity of asbestos were not widely realized until the 1970's; thus, many of the structures and equipment constructed using sheet metal during that time were built with or around potentially lethal substances and products. Furthermore, the very nature of sheet metal work - the forceful rendering and rending of materials - is such that the asbestos particles were likely to become airborne during the process and this is when asbestos particles are most dangerous to human health. Unfortunately these dangers also apply to the myriad of materials that the metal is attached to. Further compounding the asbestos exposure risk is the fact that sheet metal work is often carried out in closed or cramped quarters with poor ventilation, making the worker particularly susceptible to asbestos dust and other fine particulates when they are launched into the air.
Since many cases of asbestos-caused diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma have a latency period between ten and fifty years to materialize after initial exposure, many sheet metal workers who were exposed as long ago as the middle of the previous century are just now showing signs of asbestos disease. Studies commissioned and conducted by the Sheet Metal Workers International Association from 1986 through 2004 indicate that fully 21% of sheet metal workers tested had pleural scarring, which is the prime indicator of an asbestos-related disease. Further research in New York City asbestos exposure also revealed that sheet-metal workers have a history of significant exposure. Sprayed asbestos insulation was not banned until 1972, so those sheet metal workers who plied their trade near spraying operations were especially at risk. Even after 1972, exposure continued to occur as renovations of these buildings were undertaken. Finally, many of the pastes once used by sheet metal workers were made from asbestos. It is clear from all of these factors that sheet metal workers could be at risk for developing mesothelioma.
Sheet Metal Workers Use a Variety of Asbestos Products
The following is a list of asbestos-containing products that sheet metal workers may have come into contact with (where known, the years during which the product was manufactured is listed in parentheses):
Roofing, Shingles and Siding: Carey (aka Philip Carey Manufacturing Company) Careystone Roofing and Siding, Celotex El Rey Asbestos Fibred Roof Coating, Celobric Insulating Brick Siding, Flintkote Rexalt Roof Coating, Flintkote Roofing Products (1940-1983), Flintkote Roofing Shingles (1940-1983), Flintkote Siding (1940-1983), Flintkote Asbestos Cement Siding & Roofing (1950-1974), Ruberoid Grain-Tex Asbestos Cement Siding (early 50's), Ruberoid American Thatch (early 50's-?), Ruberoid Asbestos Panelstone (early 50's-?), Ruberoid Dura-Color (late 50's), Ruberoid Aristo Insulating Siding (early 40's-late 50's), Johns Manville Corporation Roofing Products, Johns Manville Corporation Siding Products, Keasbey & Mattison K&M Shake Shingle, National Gypsum Gold Bond Asbestone (mid 50's-early 80's), National Gypsum Gold Bond Siding (mid 50's-early 80's), National Gypsum Gold Bond Plasticrylic Panels (early 60's-early 80's), National Gypsum Gold Bond Asbestos Panels (mid 50's-early 80's), United States Gypsum Company Glatex Asbestos Cement Siding, USG Siding Shingles (Generic) (1937-1975), and USG Roofing (Generic) (1937-1975).
Cements, Adhesives and Boiler Coverings: A.P. Green SK-7 Cement (early 50's to mid-70's), Armstrong World Industries 314 Acoustic Cement (1945-1953), Armstrong World Industries Nonpareil High Pressure Cement (1909-1932), Armstrong World Industries S-89 (Adhesive) (1965-1983), Armstrong World Industries S-90 (Adhesive) (1934-1983), Armstrong Heavy Duty FRJ, Atlas Turner N18 Cement (1948-1974), Atlas No 660 Asbestos Finishing Cement, Atlas Asbestos Insulating Cement, Babcock & Wilcox Boiler products, Carey Asbestos Cement, Carey Asbestos Tank Jackets (1906-1945), Carey Adhesive (1906-1984), Carey Fireguard (1950-1976) Carey Insulation Seal (1930-1984), Celotex Plastic Cement, Celotex Corporation S.I.S. Roof Adhesive, Celotex Cement, Celotex Corporation Vitricel Asbestos Sheets (1941-1960), Celotex Corporation S&K Paper, Eagle-Picher Industries "1003" Cement (1947), Eagle-Picher Industries "111" High Temperature Cement (1935-1966), Eagle-Picher Industries "330" Insulating Cement (1939-1945), Eagle-Picher Industries "43" Finishing Cement (1944-1972), Eagle-Picher Industries 106 Finishing Cement (1948-1962), Eagle-Picher Industries 99 Finishing Cement (1935-1962), Eagle 20 Cement (1939-1967), Eagle-Picher Industries Fireproofing Cement (1948-1965), Eagle-Picher "66" Insulating Cement (early 30's-early 70's), Eagle-Picher Industries Hi-Stick Insulating Cement (1964-1969), Eagle-Picher Industries Hylo Cement (1963-1971), Eagle-Picher Industries Hylo Finishing Cement (1963-1971), Eagle-Picher Industries Insulseal - All Purpose (1968-1969), Eagle-Picher Industries Navy Grade Cement (1955-1959), Eagle-Picher Industries Navy Special Cement (1945), Eagle-Picher Industries One-Cote Cement (1960-1971), Combustion Engineering Super #3000, Combustion Engineering SDK 50 Cement (1963-1966), Combustion Engineering Hilite Insulating Cement (1964-1968), Combustion Engineering Stic-Tite Insulating Cement (1963-1972), Fibreboard Pabco Hydroseal (early 40's to late 60's), Fibreboard Corp./Pabco "F1" Insulating Cement (1963-1966), Fibreboard Corp./Pabco 127 Cement (1966-1975), Fibreboard Corp./Pabco Prasco (1928-1957), Flintkote Fibrex Cement, Flintkote Cement Board (1940-1983), Flintkote Cement Pipe (1940-1983), Flintkote Cement (1954-1965), Flintkote Black Joint Cement (1946-1960), Flintkote Orangeburg Cement Pipe, Ruberoid Calsilite Insulation, GAF Range Boiler Jacket, GAF/Ruberoid Calsilite Insulating Cement (1940-1971), Johns Manville Corporation Cement Products, Kaiser Hard-Top Insulating & Finishing Cement, Keasbey & Mattison K&M Asbestos Cement, Keasbey & Mattison K&M Range Boiler Jacket, Keene Corporation Ehret, Keene Corporation BEH No. 1 Cement, Keene (Baldwin-Hill) No. 1 Plus (1938-1971), Keene Military Form. SuperPowerhouse (1957-1971), Keene Corporation Mundet Mineral Wool Cement, M.H. Detrick Super 711 Cement (1956-1964), MH Detrick Casing Cement (1944-1964), MH Detrick Bonding Cement, MH Detrick Fibrous Adhesive (1958-1964), MH Detrick Hilite Cement (1959-1964), M.H. Detrick No. 7 Asbestos Cement, MH Detrick MHD Finishing Cement (1947-1964), MH Detrick MW Insulating Cement (1939-1956), MH Detrick Pyroscat Cement (1956-1964), MH Detrick Utility Thermal Cement (1956-1964), National Gypsum Company Gold Bond Texture Paint (early 30's-mid 70's), Owens-Corning Fiberglas Insulating Cement (mid 30's-early 70's), Owens-Corning Fiberglas One-Cote Cement (early 60's-early 70's), Quigley Waterproof Cement (1959-1974), United States Gypsum Company Cement Plaster Regular (1943-1947), USG Range Boiler Jackets Pipe Covering (1936-1939), UNR Industries, Inc./Unarco Insutube, Unarco Insulating Cements (1957-1960), Unarcoboard (1958-?), WR Grace & Company High Temp Insulating Cement (1945-1971), and WR Grace & Company Zonolite Cement (1938-1970).
Asbestosis, Mesothelioma, and Lung Cancer are Common Diseases Contracted by Sheet Metal Workers
As indicated above, the types of products, tools and techniques used and employed by sheet metal workers can result in the development of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. Experts anticipate that diagnoses of diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and asbestos-caused lung cancer are likely to increase in the next ten to twenty years. Additionally, sheet metal workers' family members may have also been susceptible to developing the disease from exposure to asbestos that was carried home from the workplace or jobsite on hair, skin, or clothes. Let's take a closer look at the causes, signs and symptoms of each disease:
Mesothelioma cancer is a malignant cancer that occurs in body cavity membranes known as the mesothelium and can appear around the chest, stomach and/or heart. When this malignancy occurs in the chest (about three-quarters of the time), it is referred to as pleural mesothelioma, and when it appears in the stomach it is called peritoneal mesothelioma. Sometimes mesothelioma can also appear in the lining near the heart; in such cases, this is known as pericardial mesothelioma. Regardless of where they specifically occur, mesothelioma tumors are exceedingly aggressive and can rapidly spread to other parts of the body, leading to a poor prognosis. Approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year in the United States alone. The only cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure.
The chest lining consists of two layers, between which is a small amount of fluid that lubricates the chest and permits the lungs to expand and contract as one inhales and exhales. When pleural mesothelioma occurs, this chest lining scars and thickens, occupying the space between these layers and frequently leading to large amounts of additional fluid. Oftentimes, pleural mesothelioma is in its advanced stages when it is initially diagnosed.
At the onset of peritoneal mesothelioma, a tumor develops within the lining of the abdomen causing it to thicken around one's abdominal organs. In most cases, increased fluid production then leads to abdominal swelling.
Pericardial mesothelioma is the rarest of the three kinds of mesothelioma and is a cancerous tumor that scars the tissue around the heart. Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma include chest pain, palpitations, a persistent cough and shortness of breath. Like all mesothelioma tumors, pericardial mesothelioma can also metastasize quickly and spread elsewhere into the body.
Lung cancer is responsible for the majority of asbestos cancer fatalities. Unlike mesothelioma, which can only be contracted via exposure to asbestos, lung cancer can result from exposure to a variety of different substances. However, studies reveal that the deadly combination of asbestos exposure and cigarette smoking raises the risk of contracting lung cancer by up to ninety percent over non-smokers with asbestos exposure. It usually takes at least ten years for sheet metal workers who have been exposed to asbestos-containing materials (ACM) to exhibit symptoms of lung cancer, and it is not uncommon for it to take up to thirty years for the disease to present. And sometimes those who already have lung cancer do not have easily detectable symptoms.
Unlike lung cancer (and much like mesothelioma), asbestosis also occurs exclusively as the result of working with and around ACM. Simply put, asbestosis is a respiratory disease in which the lungs are damaged, inflamed and/or scarred from the inhalation of harmful asbestos fibers and dust. This lung damage frequently leads to a dry, crackling cough, shortness of breath and, in the most extreme instances, complete respiratory failure. Symptoms of asbestosis usually occur between five to ten years after one's initial exposure to asbestos products. More than half of those who contract asbestosis go on to develop pleural plaques (a scarring of the lining of the lungs), and it is not uncommon for asbestosis sufferers to subsequently contract lung cancer or mesothelioma as well.