Asbestos Exposure and Auto Mechanics

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Auto mechanics, whether hobbyists or full-time professionals face an increased risk of asbestos exposure due to the nature of their work. Asbestos is found in numerous manufactured automobile parts, putting thousands of auto workers—and by extension, their families—at serious risk of developing life-threatening conditions. Despite federal asbestos regulations going into effect in the 1980s, many aftermarket car parts still contain asbestos.

Due to the very real danger that is still present for so many auto mechanics and hobbyists today, public awareness of this threat is vital. In this article, we will provide an overview of asbestos products in the automotive industry, how asbestos exposures occur, how to reduce your risk of asbestos exposure, and what to do if you believe you or a loved one have been exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos Products in Auto Parts

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with a fine, fibrous structure. These fibers bind to create a durable, soundproof, fire- and water-resistant, even chemically-resistant material that was once used in a wide range of industrial applications. These same fibers can also separate when disturbed, releasing into the air and becoming lodged into the lungs and other tissues when inhaled. Fibers remain trapped for many years inside the body, leading to scarring, inflammation, mesothelioma, and other cancers.

If you work with automobiles, then you know that durability and insulation against friction and heat are important features to look for in auto parts. That’s a key reason why asbestos was a regular part of auto part manufacturing throughout the twentieth century. Brakes, clutches, gasket material, hood liners, heat seals, valves, and packing are all components common to any auto mechanic shop—and are all auto parts that commonly include asbestos. Drum and disc brakes, for example, could contain anywhere from 35% to 60% asbestos.

While the federal government first enacted asbestos regulations in the automotive industry in the 1980s, some vehicle makes and models continued to carry asbestos parts up until the mid-1990s. Additionally, asbestos can still exist in aftermarket auto parts. There has been no blanket federal ban on asbestos in the automobile industry to date.

What is perhaps even more alarming is that the asbestos fibers remain lodged in the tissues of the human body for many years. The symptoms of asbestos-exposure-related diseases like mesothelioma can take several decades to become noticeable. Once the symptoms have progressed to the point of being identifiable, the disease is typically greatly advanced and much more difficult to treat.

How Auto Mechanic Asbestos Exposure Occurs

The servicing of brakes and clutches is one of the most common ways auto mechanics experience asbestos exposure. Brake pads and linings need to be sanded, drilled, and filed down throughout their replacement. All this mechanical work creates dust, which may be blown out with an air hose while beveling and cleaning the parts—and this dust can include asbestos.

Brake drums also can include asbestos, which is released by continual rubbing against the brake shoes, which function to help stop the vehicle. These asbestos fibers can fill the air surrounding whoever is working on or near the vehicle.

Clutches, which naturally wear down throughout regular use, can accumulate asbestos dust over time throughout their parts and clutch compartments. This dust can be expelled into the air when performing clutch work, spreading out in a wide radius surrounding the vehicle.

Servicing, removing, and installing a variety of car parts can all disturb the asbestos fibers in these parts. Using regular shop vacuums is not enough to reduce the asbestos risk, as vacuums can also release asbestos fibers. Poorly ventilated workspaces make the hazard even greater, as the dislodged fibers have nowhere to go but to settle around the auto workers and in the air they breathe. These tiny fibers can also lodge into the clothing of auto mechanics, bringing the dangers of asbestos exposure back home to household members.

How to Reduce Risk of Asbestos Exposure

If you are an automotive enthusiast or an auto mechanic, you must do all you can to protect yourself, your coworkers, and your family from the deadly risks of asbestos exposure. Here are a few tips for best practices you can incorporate into your auto shop.

Ditch the traditional shop vacuum. Instead, opt for a wet/dry vacuum that is equipped with a HEPA filter. HEPA stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Air filter and is the same type of filter that is used in healthcare facilities and other critical environments to help ensure safe breathable air. Install an approved exhaust dust collection system as well. This approach is also known as an enclosed system.

Avoid using pressurized air, hoses, dry rags, brooms, or any other tools that dislodge dust. Instead, use a low-pressure wet system if you cannot afford to install an enclosed system. This system involves specially designed spray equipment that gently wets down parts and catches runoff while avoiding blasting asbestos into the air.

If you have a hobby shop or perform no more than five brake or clutch jobs per week, it is advisable to use a proper wet wipe method while cleaning. Also, consider buying pre-ground, ready-to-install parts, as grinding is one of the riskiest tasks involved in working with asbestos-containing auto parts.

Minimize asbestos contamination by banning all foods and drinks in the work area. Dispose properly of contaminated waste, according to your local landfill requirements.

Don’t take asbestos home with you. Create a decontamination unit outside the home, and, ideally dispose of contaminated clothing before leaving the work area.

What to do if You Have Been Exposed to Asbestos in Auto Parts

If you believe you have ever been exposed to asbestos in your auto mechanic work or hobby, first talk to your doctor about receiving a full screening and referral to the appropriate healthcare specialists.

Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos also deserves financial compensation for the harm caused by asbestos-related diseases. If you or a loved one has mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease due to auto mechanic work exposure, your next step is securing experienced legal representation. We are specialists in asbestos cases, and we are here to help you through this challenging time to reach the settlement you deserve. Reach out today for a free case consultation.