For many in the construction or maintenance industries, asbestos poses a large and potentially lethal risk. Asbestos is a harmful substance found in many insulation materials. When inhaled, asbestos can cause severe breathing issues as well as various kinds of cancer.
Insulators, plumbers, pipefitters, and boiler or furnace makers are some of the most high-risk professions. Because of the severity and risk, those who work in high-risk industries are often able to receive compensation for illness or disease caused by asbestos. Read on to learn more about the history of asbestos, medical risks to exposure, high-risk professions, and what can be done for those who have experienced asbestos-related illness.
Asbestos is found in many types of insulation and was used widely to prevent heat loss and to ensure temperature control on hot surfaces including pipes. However, prior to the mid-1970s, there was little knowledge about the dangers of asbestos exposure. People who worked as pipefitters, insulators, boilermakers, and other jobs that face industrial exposure were interacting with asbestos-laden insulation with regularity without knowing the perils.
In the early 1970s, industries learned of the health concerns associated with inhaling asbestos and some began instating bans on using products that contained the substance. But despite their knowledge, many companies continued to use and install it through the late 70s to use up their inventories. These companies knowingly exposed their employees to hazardous materials. Because of this, thousands of people who have seen the impacts of asbestos exposure are filing lawsuits against these negligent companies.
It wasn’t until 1991 that asbestos regulations in the United States were changed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA began allowing the production of insulation that contained asbestos as long as it contained less than 1 percent.
Asbestos exposure can cause extremely dangerous and serious health issues including breathing difficulties and multiple types of cancer. Many insulators, pipe-fitters, and boilermakers interacted regularly with insulation that contained asbestos because their jobs required them to cut or sand downpipes that contained the substance. Asbestos is most dangerous when particles enter the air and are breathed in, thus industries that required sanding or cutting of the materials were at particularly high risk, especially if they were not wearing respiratory protection.
Side effects of asbestos exposure are often not immediate. There is often a latency period of 30-40 years from initial exposure.
For buildings to access water, gas, and steam, and to eliminate waste, they require various series of pipes. Those responsible for the installation and maintenance of these pipes are known as pipefitters or plumbers. Leading up to the 1980s, pipefitters and plumbers were regularly exposed to asbestos because it was a highly desirable material for insulating pipes for temperature control.
Working with these materials often required sanding down or cutting of asbestos-laden products. Working with asbestos in this way releases particles into the air and has caused harmful side effects for many who work in this profession. This is a high-risk industry for asbestos-related diseases including mesothelioma.
For plumbers and pipefitters who have been exposed to asbestos in their workspace, there are legal actions that can be taken to gain compensation from manufacturers. Read the “what you can do” section below for additional information.
An insulator is someone who works to repair and install insulation in buildings, which helps with temperature control, reduces energy costs, and makes buildings more energy efficient. Working as an insulator involves being close to and working with many products that contain high levels of asbestos, including many forms of insulation themselves. From the 1930s through the 1970s, asbestos was used in just about every form of insulation manufactured at the time.
Because of the proximity to materials containing asbestos, insulators run a much higher risk than the general population of contracting diseases related to asbestos exposure including mesothelioma. One study found that insulators were ten times more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general population.
Unfortunately, even though new insulation products don’t contain asbestos, insulators are still at a high risk of exposure if they work with equipment or on buildings built before the 1980s. A 2018 study showed that more than half of insulators are still exposed to asbestos at work.
But perhaps most startling of all, a 1991 report found that over 80% of asbestos workers who worked in the industry long-term developed asbestosis. Additionally, 40% of workers’ deaths were attributable to asbestos exposure. Because of the rampant and devastating effects of asbestos exposure on insulators, many have been able to get compensation in lawsuits against manufacturers of asbestos products. Read the “what you can do” section below for additional information.
Another high-risk industry for asbestos exposure is boilermakers. Boiler and furnace makers are tasked with insulating the high-temperature equipment that they work with regularly. This prevents heat loss and also reduces surface temperatures. As discussed above, until the late 1970s most insulation contained toxic levels of asbestos.
Despite the industry changes to insulation manufacturing, many boilermakers must still interact with old insulation during maintenance work to access boilers, ductwork, and more which increases their exposure greatly. Despite the fact that the insulation containing asbestos is no longer being manufactured, the now decades-old materials containing asbestos pose a great risk to new people entering the workforce.
As with other high-risk jobs, boilermakers have also been able to find compensation for the breathing difficulties and diseases they have faced because of their profession.
People who develop asbestos-related diseases should explore their legal rights. If you worked as an insulator, pipefitter, boilermaker, or in another industry that dealt closely with industrial exposure to asbestos-laden insulation and you have developed any of the diseases listed above, you have the legal right to file a claim for compensation.