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Cables and Wires

Asbestos in Cables and Wires and Other Building Materials

Many electricians and power plant workers have, over the years, been diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer. This is because the electrical industry, prior to 1980, used asbestos in the insulation in electrical equipment and wiring.

Although all forms of asbestos are flame-resistant and chemical-resistant, the variety known as crocidolite has unique properties that make it an excellent electrical insulator. Also known as "blue" asbestos, crocidolite was mined extensively in Western Australia and imported into the U.S. for use as insulation and fireproofing.

One of the major U.S. manufacturers of asbestos-insulated wire and cable during the 20th century was the Okonite Company, which began operations in Passaic, New Jersey in 1878 and continues in operation to the present day.

Crocidolite is known as "amphibole" asbestos. Crocidolite fibers are very similar to microscopic needles; once inhaled, these fibers can become lodged in lung tissue, causing chronic inflammation. Recent medical research indicates that it is this inflammation that causes cells to turn cancerous, resulting in the visceral form of the disease known as mesothelioma.

The use of crocidolite has been banned throughout the world, though some older buildings may still contain significant amounts of it. Asbestos cable and wire continues to be manufactured and sold, however. The asbestos insulation in these products is chrysotile, a relative soft form of asbestos that can nonetheless cause serious lung damage. Most of this asbestos wire and cable comes from Canada and China, where asbestos is still used legally in the manufacture of building products.

Cables and Wires Products Containing Asbestos

The following partial list of cables and wires products were known to contain asbestos:

Product Name Start Year End Year
General Electric Cable
General Electric Wire
Westinghouse Cable
Westinghouse Wire

Hazards Associated with Products

Electricians and power plant workers who worked with cables and wires in their profession are among those at highest risk for asbestos cancer. Splicing electrical cable, repairing or installing asbestos insulation around wires or junction boxes, and working around transformers, generators, and other electrical equipment put these workers at significant risk of inhaling asbestos fibers which have causal links to malignant mesothelioma. Workers in the factories, both foreign and domestic, who produced the cable and wire insulation, were also at significant risk, as are demolition workers, salvage personnel, maintenance workers, and anyone else who deals with electrical cable on a regular basis.



Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)

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