Automotive Workers and Asbestos Exposure
Historically, automotive workers had a moderate-to-high risk of asbestos exposure. Because automotive workers held a variety of jobs with different duties, some were in greater danger of inhaling or ingesting deadly asbestos fibers than others because they worked directly with asbestos-containing parts.
Few workers in the entire automotive industry were not at risk of some level of asbestos exposure.Studies show that asbestos fibers can spread in a 75-foot radius after a single disturbance.
For example, a brake technician using compressed air to blow out wheel hubs before starting repairs could release millions of asbestos fibers into the surrounding area. This put other nearby automotive workers at risk no matter what they were doing.
Even nearby office workers, visitors, or customers could also have been at risk of exposure.
How Automotive Workers Were Exposed to Asbestos
Before the 1980s, the use of asbestos in the automotive industry was unregulated. A wide spectrum of automotive workers suffered asbestos exposure while performing their daily duties.
Auto Plant Workers
Auto plant workers were not safe from asbestos exposure either. They handled thousands of parts containing hazardous asbestos during new vehicle assembly. Asbestos contaminants transferred down the line from station to station, exposing all factory workers equally.
Autobody technicians were exposed to asbestos particles when using compressed air to clean brake, clutch, and engine residue from car and truck bodies. These fine particles filled the air around autobody workspaces where they could be inhaled unknowingly.
Brake specialists had the highest exposure to asbestos dust. For years, asbestos was the main material used in brake pads and shoes. It proved to be the most durable material known to withstand high heat caused by brake friction. It was also cheap, plentiful, and easy to repair.
Clutch Repair Mechanics
Clutch repair mechanics had a similar asbestos exposure risk to brake specialists. Clutch plates, also known as transmission plates, are friction devices that let engines gradually slip power through to the tires. Asbestos was used in most clutches because of its high resistance to heat and wear. But like brakes, clutch discs shed asbestos dust.
Engine mechanics were exposed to asbestos material when replacing gaskets, seals, grommets, and control valves. Asbestos was considered the optimal material for use in car engines because it stood up to heat, oil, and coolant. Asbestos parts were destroyed when engines were disassembled and replaced with new asbestos products when put back together.
Service Station Workers
Anyone who opened an engine compartment was exposed to asbestos. Many underhood liners were formed from asbestos because the material was fireproof and great at reducing engine noise. This put every service station jockey at risk for asbestos exposure whenever they checked the oil.
Automotive employees and customers weren’t the only victims of asbestos exposure — their family members were, too.
Mechanics, body technicians, and assembly line workers carried asbestos fibers home on their clothing and even in their lunch boxes. This put family members at risk of secondary exposure. Secondary asbestos exposure is highly dangerous, especially when it occurs daily for years.