The responsibility of a pipe fitter – also sometimes known as a steam fitter – is to install, inspect, maintain and repair climate control systems that operate with boilers, radiators and oil burners. These tasks may also extend to such steam systems used in commercial laundries and kitchens.
Pipe fitters repair pipes and pipe coverings, rethread such pipes, and do maintenance and repair work on valves. In addition, pipe fitters were frequently employed in shipyards, and sea-going vessels often contain large amounts of asbestos insulation throughout their construction – particularly in the engine room, where most pipe-fitting tasks are carried out. Asbestos exposure is a very real danger when working with such systems, as asbestos insulation was, until the early 1980s, used anywhere that heat or flame was a danger.
“ACM” means asbestos containing material. Under the federal “Grace Rule” (named for asbestos manufacturer W.R. Grace & Company), a product may contain up to 1% asbestos and still be considered “asbestos free”.
Monokote® was a sprayed-on type of ACM insulation used for lagging steam pipes aboard steamships as well as commercial and residential buildings. While manufacturer W.R. Grace, Inc. claimed the substance was “asbestos-free,” the truth is that up until the mid 1970s, the asbestos content of Monokote was as much as 12%. According to the “Grace Rule,” the current version of this substance – Monokote MK6 may still contain up to 1% asbestos.
Possibly one of the worst asbestos offenders in the history of such litigation, W.R. Grace & Company was also the manufacturer of another so-called “asbestos free” product, marketed as Zonolite™. The primary (and according to Grace management, the only) ingredient was vermiculite, which is a form of clay that expands when exposed to heat. Highly absorbent, this substance is also found in clumping cat litter. The problem is that most of the company’s vermiculite came from its operation in Libby, Montana, where a great deal of asbestos was mined. As a result, W.R. Grace Inc. vermiculite products were usually contaminated with asbestos fibers.
One other ACM building product likely to be encountered by steam and pipe fitters is called “asbestos cement.” AC paneling is essentially a type of wallboard made from thin slabs of cement that has been reinforced with asbestos fibers. These asbestos fibers, which may be of either the serpentine or the amphibole variety, may make up as much as 10% of the material.