Since 1999, the Midlands region of the U.K. has seen a substantial increase in the rate of mesothelioma, particularly among those who worked on auto assembly lines. Kim Atherton, a spokeswoman for the Asbestos Disease Association of Nottingham, was quoted in a recent newspaper as saying that:
“…former car workers are at particular risk from risk from this disease because of the large amount of asbestos used in vehicle production…of particular concern to us are those individuals who worked on the assembly lines. They dealt with the brakes on cars which were sprayed, and baked, in asbestos ovens”.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., in November of 2006, the Baltimore Sun reported that a scientist at the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), Ira Wainless, was told he would be suspended without pay if he refused to remove asbestos warnings from a document about the use of asbestos in automotive brake linings.
Not surprisingly, one of those pressing for Wainless to make the changes was a former EPA head with significant ties to the auto industry. John Henshaw allegedly worked for two consulting firms to which the Ford Motor Company, General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler had paid $23 million over a five-year period, though he denied representing any client when he spoke with the OSHA. “I suggested to OSHA that the bulletin be pulled off the web site until it included more data references,” Henshaw claimed. The current document, which is still posted at the OSHA website, cites an article in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine about asbestos in brake linings. Henshaw was later investigated by the Labor Department for violating federal ethics policies.
Industrial Safety and Politics
Industrial safety should never be a political issue. The sad fact however is that most industries – including auto manufacturers – spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year lobbying Congress for legislative protection against lawsuits and liability. The attempt to change the aforementioned OSHA document is, in the words of Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), “…what the auto industry and brake industry is doing to defend itself against lawsuits from people who died from occupational exposure to asbestos”.
Where the Asbestos Products Are
Products Containing Asbestos Asbestos has been used in many industries primarily as a flame retardant. Since fires have always been one hazard of running automobiles, it should come as no surprise that asbestos components have historically been part of many vehicles. This is especially true with auto parts that are subject to friction, such as clutches and brakes (where temperatures can go as high as 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit).
Amazingly, this substance is still legal in the U.S. Although technically banned in the manufacture of new vehicles within the U.S., the components of automobiles assembled inside the U.S. frequently come from outside the country, where asbestos regulations are lax and even non-existent.
If you have ever worked in the automotive industry – particularly assembling brakes and clutches – it is vital to have regular check-ups and note any symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, nagging cough, chest pains, or mysterious weight loss. These may be symptoms of any number of conditions, but if it should be mesothelioma, it is especially important to catch this deadly form of asbestos cancer in its early stages when it is most treatable.
Because all states have a statute of limitations on legal actions in tort cases, it’s also important to contact an experienced mesothelioma lawyer as soon as possible after a diagnosis has been confirmed.
- Aspinall, Adam., “Asbestos Cancer Threat to Ex-Car Workers; Exclusive” (2006)
- Sandman, Peter. “Asbestos Risk Politics” (2006)
- Schneider, Andrew. “Brakes Warning Remains” (2006)
- Schneider, Andrew. “Pressure at OSHA to Alter Warning” (2006)