Mechanical engineering is the design, analysis, testing, and production of products. Mechanical engineers traditionally worked in chemical, aerospace, and automotive industries among others, and are now working in bioengineering and environmental fields in addition to the traditional mechanical engineering fields. Among other things, mechanical engineering involves work in electrical circuitry, thermodynamics and heat transfer.
These areas of work brought mechanical engineers into contact with vast amounts of asbestos during the height of asbestos use between 1940 and the late 1970s. During that time asbestos was used in over 3000 different products. Asbestos is still used for some products, primarily brake pad linings and gaskets, in the United States, and there is asbestos in older products that people come in contact with meaning the risk of exposure still exists. Asbestos has some unique properties that made it a valuable resource for hundreds of years. Asbestos is chemically inert, entirely fireproof, and insulates extremely well against both heat and electricity.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that breaks apart easily. When the fibers separate, and any other time the fibers are manipulated in some way, they slough off microscopic pieces of asbestos dust. This dust is very lightweight and remains airborne for a long time. Anyone nearby can then inhale the fibers. When the asbestos dust enters the body it gets imbedded in the lungs and in the membrane surrounding the lungs and lining the chest cavity.
Once in the body asbestos causes a lot of different medical problems, including asbestos cancer since it is a carcinogen. The worst form of cancer caused by asbestos is malignant mesothelioma. This is a cancer that primarily attacks the tissue surrounding the lungs in its most common form – pleural mesothelioma – although it can also affect the stomach, heart, testicles, and other parts of the body in its more rare instances.