An aeronautical engineer, also referred to as an aerospace engineer, does research and design work on aircraft. They test aircraft performance, work on ways to improve that performance, and improve the safety of all flight operations all while minimizing environmental impact. Traditionally aeronautical engineers work with airplanes and their systems, while aerospace engineers work with spacecraft and the systems more closely associated with space flights. Among other job duties, aeronautical engineers work to maintain, update and retrofit airplanes with modern equipment and materials. This activity potentially brings the aeronautical engineer into contact with asbestos.
Asbestos is a lightweight mineral with very effective heat insulating and fire resistant qualities. As such, it was thought of as an ideal material for use in aircraft where weight was an issue, and where a fire breaking out could be deadly. Asbestos’ fire protection properties were useful in and around the engines and fuel tanks, as insulation around wiring and in electrical outlets and lighting sockets. Anyone who worked in and around those areas may have been exposed to asbestos dust. Unfortunately, asbestos has negative features that outweigh its positive ones. Asbestos fibers break off easily and can become airborne. When the fibers get into the lungs they cause tissue damage, scarring, and several diseases that are potentially fatal – including asbestosis and mesothelioma. One of the difficulties in dealing with asbestos exposure is the amount of time it takes between exposure and the time the illness reveals itself.
There are many potential health problems caused by asbestos. Two of the most serious problems are asbestosis and mesothelioma. Asbestosis is a stiffening of the lungs that makes breathing difficult and painful and can cause heart problems. Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer of the lungs, the tissue surrounding the lungs, the heart, the stomach, or other organs. Mesothelioma has a very high mortality rate not only because it is difficult to treat, but also because it is difficult to diagnose before it has reached an advanced stage. Often several decades may elapse before symptoms of any asbestos cancer or disease begin to appear. Because some of the health problems related to asbestos don’t exhibit symptoms until the disease has progressed to a very serious stage, it is vital that anyone who had exposure to asbestos at any time in their life seeks medical advice and undergoes a thorough examination to rule out hidden asbestos disease.
In addition to asbestos on the airplanes, asbestos liners were used until 1993 in some British airfields’ runway lighting systems. The gaskets were stored at airfields, potentially infecting anyone entering the storage unit. People working to change out the gaskets are at a greater risk of having been exposed to high levels of airborne asbestos.
There was also asbestos used in the Plattsburgh Aeronautical Institute, a training academy in New York that serves both high school students and adults who want a career in the aeronautical industry. The academy underwent an asbestos removal program in two parts that lasted from April through May of 2006. Anyone in the school prior to that time, and during the asbestos remediation, may have been exposed. Similarly, the Aeronautical building at the University of Arizona was demolished in 1997, in part because of asbestos insulation used during the construction of the building in the late 1940s.
There are many more examples of aeronautical schools, and other types of schools that contain asbestos or have undergone renovation in the past few years. In many cases the greatest risk of exposure is during the renovation process if the contractor doesn’t follow strict guidelines for containing the disturbed asbestos fibers.