Civil Engineers

Summary

Engineering covers a wide range of professional occupations. Every engineering field involves research, design and construction for some end-use product. That can be everyday household materials or something exotic like interstellar space probes. But one engineering field has the most common effect on our daily lives—civil engineers who make our civic infrastructures. And one thing many different engineers had in common is being exposed to asbestos from their project materials.

Civil Engineering Job Roles and Careers

Civil engineers specialize within the engineering profession. They invest years training in disciplines like mathematics, physics, chemistry and even architecture. Civil engineers acquire university degrees and special designations allowing them to design, oversee and approve structures and systems that support citizens’ lives.

Some of the important roles civil engineers experience in their careers include:

  • Designing transportation systems like airports, railways and highways
  • Constructing bridges, tunnels and arterial connectors
  • Building dams, canals and waterways
  • Designing and operating power generation systems
  • Specifying utility supply systems such as water and sewer pipes
  • Interfacing buildings and civic infrastructure
  • Coordinating other engineers like structural, chemical and mechanical professionals

Each of these civil engineering paths requires complicated systems and a large range of building products.

From the early 1900s to the late 1980s, many materials specified in civil engineering projects contained large asbestos quantities.

Most civil engineers weren’t exposed to asbestos from directly working with asbestos-contaminated products. Rather, civil engineers inhaled and ingested asbestos fibers when they supervised workers and were present on jobs where asbestos dust filled the air.

Asbestos Applications in Civil Engineering Projects

Civil engineers specified asbestos materials in many of their designs and applications. Asbestos became popular at the beginning of the twentieth-century when it proved to be an excellent heat insulator and fire retardant. Asbestos was cheap, plentiful and stable to work with. Unfortunately, few initially anticipated the horrible health risks that asbestos exposure presented.

Asbestos seemed like a wonder material for civil engineering work. It was specified as the primary material for reinforcing products that were prone to heat damage and fire potential. Asbestos also strengthened materials and lightened their weight.

Some of the areas where civil engineers employed asbestos materials included:

  • Concrete foundations where asbestos was added to cement powder
  • Asphalt road surfaces to strengthen and bind aggregates
  • Pipe and boiler insulation and fireproofing
  • Building materials like roofing, insulation, flooring and wallboard
  • Adhesives used in civil joinery like pipe flanges and pressure fittings
  • Chemical products interacting with other building materials
  • Heating, ventilation and air-condition (HVAC) equipment used in civil works
  • Heavy equipment construction components like gaskets, brakes, and clutches.

Civil Engineers and Asbestos Exposure

Most civil engineers spent much time around civic construction job sites. A great deal of civil engineering responsibility is making inspections and giving directions to field technicians. Civil work projects produced large asbestos byproducts and discharges. Mixing concrete caused dry powder to become airborne. So did cutting and fitting asbestos protected pipes.

Roadworks were extremely dusty in dry weather. Clouds of asbestos-contaminated dust were constantly present and exposed unprotected civil engineers to airborne asbestos fibers. Similar hazards occurred in bridge, tunnel and runway projects. Engineers even polluted their office buildings after returning from the field with asbestos particles stuck in their clothes and on their testing equipment.

Very few civil engineers were aware of extreme health risks associated with asbestos exposure. Many engineers spend hours in the field each day breathing in asbestos fibers that dislodged from their main products during cutting and fitting. Demolition works were equally hazardous. Dust from concrete and asphalt removed from old infrastructure was deadly dangerous. But few civil engineers took protective precautions.

That’s because most engineers didn’t know about asbestos-related health problems before the late 1900s. However, many manufacturers and suppliers of products containing asbestos knew full well. Some intentionally concealed how dangerous asbestos was. Eventually, this negligence caused many civil engineers and other asbestos-exposed workers to develop a fatal disease.

Civil Engineers and Mesothelioma

MJN Brief

The deadliest disease associated with asbestos exposure is mesothelioma. The only cause of this incurable cancer is inhaling asbestos fibers. For civil engineers, their risk was at contaminated work sites. Airborne microscopic asbestos fibers attached to the lung lining (pleura) and were impossible to expel. It takes 10-50 years but eventually an incurable cancerous tumor develops.

Compensation for Civil Engineers with Mesothelioma

If you’re a civil engineer who developed mesothelioma from workplace asbestos exposure, you may be eligible for legal compensation. Mesothelioma victims can be awarded money to cover medical expenses, lost income and personal injury. They’re also eligible to sue negligent asbestos product manufacturers and suppliers for damages. Additionally, mesothelioma victims’ families may file lawsuits on behalf of relatives as well as sue for wrongful death cases.