Drill press operators use equipment to drill or press holes into metal and other materials. They also work with metal fabrication to create specific tools and parts according to a pre-designed set of specifications. From 1940 through the 1970s asbestos paint, asbestos coatings, and asbestos polishing compounds were part of metalworking. The coatings prevented rust, and they gave metal a much greater insulating capability against noise, heat and fire. Drill press operators would use machinery to drill holes into metal that had these types of coatings put on them.
Drill press operators could also be called into play in dealing with fabricating metal roofing, either by fixing pieces or by creating new pieces to fit in with the old. In these situations the drill press operator could come into asbestos insulation that was frequently sprayed onto metal parts of construction.
During the drilling process miniscule portions of asbestos fiber would be released into the air. As the drill press operator worked, he would breathe in these tiny fibers and asbestos dust. As a result, the asbestos would get into his lungs, potentially causing such asbestos related illnesses as asbestosis or mesothelioma.
Additionally, since machining metal produces a lot of friction-generated heat, sparks and fire are a legitimate concern. Before the public became fully aware of the dangers of asbestos, machinists put its heat and fire resistant properties to use by lining their work areas with asbestos board. They could leave extremely hot items lying on the surface without having to worry about them starting a fire. The asbestos didn’t hold heat, so it also helped maintain a more comfortable working environment. This also provided a means for asbestos fibers to get into the air that the drill press operator then breathed into his lungs.
Asbestos has been used since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and even in that time scholars observed that slaves who worked with asbestos the most had problems with their lungs. By the 1940s when asbestos use was picking up considerably in the United States due to the war effort, plenty of information existed showing that asbestos presents significant danger to human health. It was such an efficient insulator, however, and relatively cheap to mine and process, that the dangers were overlooked for many years. As a result, machinists and drill press operators came into frequent contact with asbestos and no one warned them of the potential danger.
Asbestos is a mineral that has a fibrous form. When the fibers are disturbed, the asbestos breaks off and, because it is very light, it floats on the ambient air. If a person inhales that air, the asbestos moves into the person’s lungs. Once in the lungs the asbestos fibers and dust get imbedded into the tissue and cause irritation that leads to scarring of the lungs and the tissues that surround the lungs. Over time the scarring can get bad enough to cause breathing to become difficult and painful.
Asbestos is also a carcinogen. It is associated with both lung cancer and Malignant mesothelioma. Malignant mesothelioma often takes between 15 and 40 years to develop. During the early stages, this asbestos cancer has no symptoms or symptoms that are so mild they frequently go unnoticed. While a person may feel out of breath during exercise, that isn’t anything unusual, so most people simply ignore it. By the time the symptoms get bad enough to raise concern, the mesothelioma has frequently passed into a more serious stage where treatment becomes difficult and ineffectual. There is no cure for mesothelioma and in advanced cases the most a doctor can do is treat its symptoms and try to slow its growth.