Asbestos in Automotive: Navigating Risks and Worker Safety

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 automobile parts, putting thousands of mechanics – and by extension, their families – at serious risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with a fine, fibrous structure. These fibers bind to create a durable, soundproof, fire and water-resistant – making it the perfect material for use in various auto parts. 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 health issues.

Brakes, clutches, gasket material, hood liners, heat seals, valves, and packing are all components common to any auto mechanic shop – and all auto parts that commonly include asbestos. Drum and disc brakes, for example, could contain anywhere from 35% to 60% asbestos.

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 during maintenance. 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 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 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.

Automotive industry locations that have a high risk of asbestos exposure:

  • Repair or maintenance shops
  • Manufacturing plants
  • Restoration facilities
  • Auto parts shop
  • Home garages
  • Hobby garages
  • Junkyards
  • Cargo bays
  • Cockpits

Products used by auto mechanics that may contain asbestos include but are not limited to:

  • Engine gaskets
  • Clutches
  • Mufflers
  • Vehicle components
  • Asbestos gloves
  • Asbestos jackets
  • Brake pads
  • Brake linings
  • Brake housing
  • Brake drums
  • Brake shoes
  • Hood liners
  • Heat seals
  • Asbestos packing
  • Asbestos valves
  • Front-wheel drive components
  • Engine and electrical insulation
  • Exhaust system and pipes

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