Historically, automotive workers had a moderate to high risk of asbestos exposure. Their duties and job variance put some auto workers in greater danger of ingesting deadly asbestos fibers than others. The level of health risks depends on the exact tasks they undertook along with their overall work environment.
Automotive Worker Careers
There’s a massive amount of automotive workers employed across the nation. The auto industry takes in everyone from auto factory assemblers who work in clean rooms to the local repair shop mechanics covered with dust. Then there are the automotive specialty shops fixing only brakes and mufflers as well as transmission repair places. Automotive workers include this wide spectrum that suffered asbestos exposure:
Brake specialists had the highest exposure to asbestos dust. For years, asbestos was the main material used in brake pads and shoes. That’s because asbestos 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 nearly the same asbestos exposure level as brake specialists. Clutch plates are friction devices that let an engine gradually slip power through to the tires. Asbestos has high temperature-resistance and wears well. But like brakes, clutch discs shed fine particles as asbestos fiber dust.
Engine mechanics were exposed to asbestos material when they replaced gaskets, seals, grommets and control valves. Asbestos was considered the optimum engine parts attachment material as it stood up to heat, oil and coolant. But asbestos parts were destroyed when the engines were disassembled. Then they were replaced with more asbestos products when put back together.
Autobody technicians also contacted asbestos particles when they use compressed air to clean brake, clutch and engine residue from car and truck bodies. These fine particles went into the air, and the automotive techs inhaled them.
Auto Plant Workers
Auto plant workers were not immune from asbestos exposure. They handled thousands of parts containing hazardous asbestos during new vehicle assembly. Asbestos contaminants transferred down the line from station to station equally exposing all factory workers.
Service Station Workers
Anyone who opened an engine compartment was exposed to asbestos. Many underhood liners were formed from asbestos because it cut down noise and was fireproof. That put every service station jockey at risk for asbestos exposure every time they checked the oil.
Secondary Risks for Automotive Worker Asbestos Exposure
Direct automotive workers weren’t the only victims of asbestos exposure. Many mechanics, body technicians and assembly line workers carried asbestos fibers home on their clothing and even their lunch boxes. Secondary asbestos exposure was also highly dangerous, especially when long-term exposure occurred day after day.
There were few workers in the entire automotive industry not at risk to asbestos exposure. Even office workers and temporary visitors to a shop or assembly facility were exposed to airborne asbestos fibers. Microscopic asbestos particles thrived in an airborne environment. They entered unfiltered ventilation systems and spread throughout entire buildings.
“Studies show that asbestos fibers can spread in a 75-foot radius after a single disturbance.”
A good example is a brake technician using compressed air to blow out wheel hubs before starting repairs. That distance puts most other workers at risk no matter what they’re doing. It also includes customers standing nearby or making office transactions.
Asbestos Applications in Automotive Work
Asbestos materials were used as parts since the automobile’s invention. Recently, material improvements, environmental regulations and worker safety laws have restricted asbestos products in automotive manufacturing. But that’s not foolproof. Many aftermarket products available from overseas markets still contain high asbestos concentrations. They include:
- Engine gaskets
- Brake shoe pads
- Disc brake pads
- Clutch plates
- Engine sealants
- Engine valves
- Automotive soundproofing
- Packing materials
- Auto insulation
Automotive Workers and Asbestos Health Risk
Every automotive worker who’s ever been exposed to asbestos has a health risk. It depends on the amount of asbestos particles a worker is exposed to and exposure duration. This determines the risk degree but is not categorically conclusive.
There are two classifications for asbestos exposure:
- Acute or sudden, short-term asbestos exposure
- Chronic or lengthy, long-term asbestos exposure
Unquestionably, the longer an automotive worker was exposed to asbestos the larger the risk for related health problems. That’s greatly compounded when the worker was exposed to large volumes of asbestos particles over a long time.
Mesothelioma is the leading disease directly caused by asbestos exposure. This deadly ailment can materialize years or even decades after the last time an automotive worker had asbestos exposure. Disease latency can make identifying who’s accountable for an auto worker’s illness difficult.
Asbestos Compensation for Automotive Workers
If you or your family member is one of the tens of thousands of automotive workers exposed to asbestos, you may be entitled to compensation. Payments might be assistance for disability, medical expenses or personal injury awards. Your loved ones could also qualify for compensation. Punitive awards for wrongful death lawsuits are also outcomes in mesothelioma legal cases.