Boilers and Asbestos Exposure

Summary

Steam energy has been one of the most efficient energy forms ever invented. Fuel sources like coal, wood, oil, electricity and nuclear reactions all heated water contained in steel boilers to high temperatures above the boiling point. All sorts of energy application came from boiler operations like centralized heating, electrical generation and steam-based propulsion system. But this heat required insulation and fireproofing. For decades, dangerous asbestos fibers covered all of America's boilers.

Asbestos seemed like the perfect natural material for insulating boilers, high-pressure steam pipes and delivery ducts. Asbestos was thermally inert and non-flammable. Those qualities alone made asbestos products the ideal choice for insulating every boiler size and shape fabricated in the nation. Not only was asbestos the best insulator known, but it was also fireproof, non-corrosive and didn’t conduct electricity. Asbestos was also widely available, simple to apply and economical to purchase.

Use of Boiler Products in America

Since the start of the Industrial Age, hot water boiler energy has been the primary form of large-scale heating installations. Aside from the heat-producing fuel costs, water is the cheapest product available anywhere. It’s also a renewable product, unlike fossil fuels.

Boiler systems are simple in theory. However, in practice, boilers are complex devices with many specialized components. Every part of a boiler system requires heat control. That’s to trap heat within the boiler tanks and delivery pipes. It’s also to insulate the surrounding boiler room and the environment from overheating.

These locations all used boilers:

  • Centralized heating systems in schools, warehouses, and factories.
  • Home heating systems in millions of American houses.
  • Industrial sites
  • Electrical power generators.
  • Locomotive engines on trains.
  • Ship propulsion drives and catapult launches on carriers.

Whether boilers were large or small, they all produced heat needing control. Some home-based boilers only held a few hundred gallons of water where huge ships employed multiple boilers working in teams and heating a hundred thousand or more gallons. Every boiler system presented a high health danger to anyone working with or around a boiler built with asbestos insulation products.

Boiler Components Containing Asbestos

Hot water boiler systems consist of three main components. First is the primary heating component or firebox. This part creates heat that transfers to the second element which is the boiler tank or the sealed unit containing water. Boiling water produces steam supplied to the third component. That’s the network of pressurized pipes and ducts that deliver power to turn propellers or turbines. It also includes heated forced air for building warmth.

Did You Know?

All three boiler system components required massive amounts of insulation. For seven decades, from the 1920s to the 1980s, every American boiler system used asbestos-based products for heat and fire control.

 

Boiler components that contained asbestos included:

  • Block insulation around boiler bases.
  • Cement powder for foundations and pipe wrap.
  • Closed cell insulation for steam pipe enclosure.
  • Joint compound, gaskets, and sealants.
  • Rope made from asbestos for door and hatch sealing.
  • Tape for connecting and securing asbestos paper.
  • Raw asbestos to fill cracks and holes.
  • Wax

Asbestos Exposure from Boilers

There were two classifications of boiler workers. Workers who constructed boilers in factories were one class exposed to asbestos fibers. Those who installed used and maintained asbestos-insulated boilers were the second group at-risk for asbestos exposure.

Every worker around these boilers was exposed to airborne asbestos particles. New manufacturing required workers to handle and modify asbestos products. Installers needed to cut, drill, sand and shape asbestos. Maintainers had the job to repair damaged, frail and failing asbestos products. Every one of these unprotected workers inhaled countless amounts of tiny asbestos fibers.

Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure

Mesothelioma is a deadly lung cancer only caused by asbestos exposure. When asbestos fibers enter an exposed worker’s lungs, they attach to the mesothelium which is the lung lining. Asbestos fibers are impossible to expel, and they also do not break down like bacterial or organic irritants. Over time, scar tissue forms over impaled asbestos fibers. This mass eventually turns to malignant tumors. However, the latency period for developing mesothelioma can take ten to fifty years after asbestos exposure.

Compensation for Mesothelioma Victims

Unfortunately, there’s no known cure for fully-developed mesothelioma cases. The only just recourse is compensation. If you’re one of the many workers who developed mesothelioma from asbestos on boilers or other asbestos-containing materials, you’re eligible for reimbursement. That includes payment for lost income, medical costs, and punitive damages. Families may claim on behalf of relatives as well as file wrongful death lawsuits.