Electricians worked with large quantities of airborne asbestos fibers at all types of job sites. This exposure occurred from the 1920s when many building products contained asbestos and were present where electricians worked.
A dangerous exposure pattern continued until the late 1890s when asbestos health risks became obvious. Only then was the deadly substance banned or controlled.
Over the course of seven decades, multiple generations of electricians worked in asbestos-filled environments. Many electricians developed the deadly disease called mesothelioma. It’s only cause is from asbestos fibers inhaled into the lungs. Most electricians didn’t know how volatile asbestos exposure was. Today, a large number of electricians employed during the asbestos exposure period are at great risk of developing mesothelioma.
Electrician Careers and Job Roles
Every American jurisdiction requires electricians to be trained and certified. Electricians go through a period of understudy or apprenticing before being licensed to work on their own. Ticketed electricians are called journeymen. This trade-qualification has been in place since the 1800s when electrical systems began.
By the turn of the twentieth century, the electrical industry was booming. Generation stations and transmission lines tied a grid across the nation. It served cities, farms and factories. The demand for experienced electricians grew enormously. Soon, electrical systems snaked through homes, automobiles and the growing number of ships being built to serve the military and intercontinental trade.
Ticketed electricians generally fell into three classifications. Their training in electrical theory was similar but their practical applications involved different materials and processes.
The three electrician levels included:
- Residential electricians: worked with light voltage and amperage. They wired homes, apartment blocks and multi-family projects.
- Commercial electricians: Worked on medium-sized buildings. Businesses, schools and small factories are prime examples of where commercial electricians worked.
- Industrial electricians: Worked on large size building. They installed electrical wiring and control components in factories, mills and refineries as well as in electrical generation powerhouses.
The wide range of mobile electrical applications fell between the commercial and industrial electrician classes. Shipyards, auto assembly lines and aircraft factories employed hundreds of specialized electricians. But no matter what role electricians served during most of the twentieth century, they were all exposed to asbestos.
Electricians and Asbestos Exposure
Electrical trades were highly susceptible to asbestos exposure. During the peak exposure period, asbestos was considered a perfect substance to use in manufacturing electrical products. Asbestos was lightweight and apparently stable. It was an excellent insulator. That’s not just for thermal transfer of heat and cold. Asbestos had neutral conductivity making it the ideal insulator for coating electrical wires
Wires and cables weren’t the only electrical products containing asbestos. Asbestos linings and washers isolated breaker boxes and contact terminals. Electric ducts or raceways were filled with asbestos to prevent fires from electrical shorts. Even electrician’s clothing and tools were made with asbestos to insulate them from electrocution.
Overall worksites exposed electricians to all sorts of asbestos materials. Many other building products of the time contained asbestos. Construction sites had asbestos in wall insulation and wallboard. Asbestos was in flooring, roofing and siding. Paints, glues and sealants contained asbestos particles that filled the air from cutting, shaping and installing.
Many electricians worked on maintenance, repair and renovation sites. That required them to cut through asbestos insulated wires as well as walls stuffed with asbestos fibers. Every time they handled asbestos materials, electricians or nearby workers would disturb inert asbestos and cause tiny fibers to become airborne. Over the years, every electrician working with asbestos breathed in dangerous asbestos particles.
Electricians and Mesothelioma Risk
Mesothelioma is a deadly lung disease that’s only caused by asbestos exposure. Tiny shards of spear-like asbestos fibers filled the air where electricians worked. Day after day and year after year, electricians inhaled microscopic asbestos particles that embedded in their lung linings or pleura.
Asbestos fibers are impossible to exhale. They sit in the pleural lining forever. It can take decades before asbestos fibers react with irritation to the lungs and turn into cancerous tumors. Usually, there are no obvious symptoms of this fatal disease developing until mesothelioma has fully established. By then, the prognosis for electricians or anyone exposed to asbestos on a regular basis is dismal.
Compensation for Electricians with Mesothelioma
What’s tragic about electricians who develop mesothelioma is that their exposure was preventable. Many unscrupulous manufacturers were fully aware of the health risks from asbestos exposure. For many reasons, mostly involving profits, these asbestos product suppliers failed to warn workers or disclose the medical risk facts.
There are many court precedents where electricians and other tradespeople are compensated after developing mesothelioma. Awards are available for lost income, medical expenses and punitive damages. Families are allowed to file claims on behalf of members with mesothelioma. This includes wrongful death lawsuits.