Brake Pads and Asbestos Exposure

Summary

Brake pads and other brake components are essential safety devices for stopping moving vehicles. Most people don't consider brakes as dangerous products unless they fail. Brake failure is a concern in a mobile emergency, but when brake pads are stable, they become deadly. Many brake pads can contain lethal amounts of asbestos fibers.

“Asbestos was once considered the best material to build all sorts of brake pads and shoes. The entire American automotive industry began using asbestos in brake part manufacturing as early as the 1920s.”

MJN Brief

Although the dangers of asbestos fiber exposure became well known by the 1980s, asbestos brake installation continued in U.S.-built vehicles well into the 2000s. Brake components made with asbestos are still widely available on foreign, aftermarket products.

Cars, trucks and buses weren’t the only vehicles with asbestos brake pads. Every sort of motion device required braking power. Asbestos seemed to make good sense for friction control and withstanding high heats associated with stopping moving parts. Asbestos had excellent wear properties, was widely available and proved economical.

Asbestos brake pads were utilized in:

  • Aircraft brakes including military and civilian airplanes.
  • Railroad locomotives and freight cars.
  • Ship drivelines, propeller and anchor systems.
  • Heavy equipment like dozers, excavators and rock trucks.
  • Cranes and hoist devices.

Asbestos Exposure from Brake Pads

When asbestos materials have been installed and are inert, they’re considered stable and relatively safe. The danger of airborne asbestos fiber exposure happened when asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were disturbed or became old and friable. Crumbling asbestos or worn fibers discharged tiny asbestos fibers into the atmosphere.

Brake pads work by applying friction pressure on a spinning brake disc or inside a brake drum. Asbestos was a highly-resistant material heat used in areas producing friction and generating extreme heat. Asbestos brake pads wore and dislodged tiny particles as grit and fine dust. Many of these microscopic fibers became trapped in the brake housings and surrounding area. Then they were significantly disturbed when a service worker opened the housing to remove brake pads for replacement or adjustment.

Automotive and machinery repair shop workers were the highest risk group for asbestos exposure from worn brake pads. In fact, they still are. Asbestos brake pads may still be present on older vehicles still in service. These pads are still installed on various off-shore machines. When an individual opens brake calipers or drums containing ACMs, clouds of asbestos dust are released.

Government Studies on Brake Pads and Asbestos Exposure

Despite regulatory efforts to ban all asbestos products, the brake pad and shoe industry still uses ACMs in some components.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted a study in brake repair shops across the nation. The EPA determined shop dust contained an average of 33 percent asbestos fibers.

This alarming figure caused the EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to enact strict guidelines for anyone working in a brake repair environment.

Airborne asbestos particle exposure regulations addressed:

  • Using HEPA respirators and protective clothing where more than 1 percent asbestos dust is present.
  • Restricting compressed air to blow out brake housings.
  • Utilizing contained vacuum systems to collect and hold brake dust.
  • Adopting a wet cleaning approach to minimize airborne fibers.
  • Stopping the dry wipe and dusting practice commonly used in brake repairs.

Studies also showed asbestos fibers were distributed to 75 feet away from where a mechanic disturbed brake dust. This distribution exposed other workers in the shop as well as salespeople and their customers. Brake pads also contaminated workers in brake manufacturing plants and everyone along the distribution chain.

Mesothelioma can be Caused by Brake Pad Asbestos Exposure

Mesothelioma is a fatal form of lung cancer. The only known cause of this deadly disease is exposure to airborne asbestos fibers. Airborne asbestos particles found in brake repair environments are light and mobile. They linger in the atmosphere for lengthy times where anyone in the area inhaled these tiny shards.

Inhaled asbestos fibers attach to the mesothelium. They remain in the lung lining forever and can’t be expelled or broken down. Scar tissue forms over the irritants as part of the body’s defense or immune system. The condition lays dormant for decades before turning into cancer tumors.

Compensation for Mesothelioma Victims

There is no cure for advanced mesothelioma. However, victims are eligible for compensation. If you have developed mesothelioma from asbestos exposure, you can claim for medical expenses, punitive damages and lost income. Families of mesothelioma victims can apply on their behalf as well as launch wrongful death lawsuits.