Plumbers and Asbestos Exposure
Between the 1920s and 1980s, asbestos was commonly used in countless building projects. All plumbers during that era worked with asbestos daily. Most plumbers took asbestos for granted and had no idea of long-term health risks presented by asbestos exposure.
Asbestos was thought to be a perfect additive to many products used by plumbers. It’s an inert material with excellent thermal transfer properties. Many hot water pipes were asbestos-wrapped, keeping temperatures uniform and constant.
Asbestos is also fire-resistant, making it safe for plumbers to cut, weld, and braze. Also, asbestos is non-corrosive, so steel pipes were protected from rust. Finally, asbestos was inexpensive, easy to work with and widely available.
Plumbers weren’t aware of the dangers of asbestos and many were exposed daily due to the nature of their work. Unfortunately, exposure to asbestos can have deadly consequences.
How Plumbers Were Exposed to Asbestos
Plumbers are exposed to asbestos when asbestos dust and fibers become airborne. During plumbing work, these fibers release into the air in two ways.
The first is by manually modifying asbestos materials that dislodge tiny fibers, which become airborne. Most asbestos plumbing materials are relatively safe and stable once installed, sealed, and left alone.
However, that didn’t happen until plumbers cut, sawed, sanded, and scraped their products to fit and finish jobs.
How Asbestos Fibers Become Airborne
Manual manipulation causes asbestos fibers to become airborne, presenting a significant health hazard for plumbers.
The other equally dangerous process for creating asbestos dust is tearing apart old products where asbestos breaks down and becomes dust. No matter which process creates asbestos dust, both can put plumbers in harm’s way.
Another peril for plumbers was working in an environment where other trades cut and installed asbestos products. Asbestos was prevalent in drywall, flooring, paint, and insulation. Many plumbers were just as contaminated by other trades as they were by their own work.