Asbestos in Gasketing Material
In many industrial occupations, particularly pipefitting and boilermaking, workers were required to cut their own gaskets from sheets of asbestos material. The purpose of a gasket is to create a tight seal between two surfaces – something that is very important when it comes to steam heating and fuel systems. Because every application and situation is unique, it was virtually impossible to mass produce pre-cut gaskets. Workers on-site using the machinery directly had to cut their own gaskets from sheets containing high quantities of asbestos. When this material was cut with scissors or a knife, asbestos fibers were released into the air and inhaled by workers.
The use of asbestos was common wherever high heat was an issue – and thus, gasket material was made with large amounts of this material. Asbestos was an inexpensive substance and readily available. Asbestos gaskets were used in civilian machinery and military vehicles alike. Such gasket material was to be found in almost every type of military vehicle from jeeps to aircraft carriers.
Asbestos gasket material was made largely from white asbestos, also known as chrysotile. This was the most common variety of asbestos, and is still used in many parts of the world, including Canada. White asbestos is often associated with non-malignant respiratory diseases such as asbestosis and pleural plaques. Even deadlier were the blue and brown varieties of asbestos. Known as crocidolite and amosite respectively, these types of fibers are known to result in cancer of the lung as well as the visceral lining of the lungs, heart and gastrointestinal system. These fibers can also enter the bloodstream and affect other parts of the body.
Hazards Associated with Gasketing Products
Workers who produced asbestos-based gaskets would have been exposed to the raw asbestos fibers, but the equally affected are the men and women who cut and installed the gasketing material for use in industrial applications. Maintenance and repair workers who replaced old and worn gaskets were also exposed in a similar fashion. The seriousness of toxic exposure from asbestos gaskets was compounded by the phenomenon known as secondary exposure. This happened as a result of workers carrying asbestos fibers home on their clothing and hair and unknowingly exposing family members.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)