Asbestos was once thought to be an advanced plumbing material.
Between the 1920s and 1980s, asbestos was commonly used in countless building products. 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.
Plumber Roles and Responsibilities
Plumbing is a high skill and in large demand. Plumbers are well paid, and they deserve it. Plumbing is a respectable trade taking years to learn and become competent. All plumbers start out as apprentices and go to trade school. They get field experience with hands-on training. After 4 to 6 years, apprentice plumbers receive their journeyman’s papers. That’s also called a trade qualification or TQ ticket.
Plumbers work across the entire building construction industry. Each spectrum has their distinct processes, materials and equipment.
Professional plumbers employ in these roles:
- Residential plumbing for single and multi-family housing projects
- Commercial plumbing jobs at new offices, warehouses and hotels
- Industrial plumbing sites in factories, hospitals and schools
- Renovation work for removing and replacing pipe systems
- Repair calls for fixing blockages and broken parts
Plumbers are required to handle many different tools and equipment pieces. Most plumbers work with pressure and non-pressurized water systems. Some plumbers cross over into fire suppression systems but regular plumbers usually don’t work on gas, steam or chemical delivery systems.
Some plumber responsibilities include:
- Installing new drain, waste and vent pipes
- Building pressurized hot and cold water runs
- Installing and testing plumbing fixtures
- Connecting tanks and reservoirs
- Cutting welding and gluing materials
- Removing old parts and fitting new pieces
New construction wasn’t the only segment plumbers work in. Many plumbers were employed as service technicians in large complexes. The renovation industry also required plumbers for removing antiquated pipes and fixtures, then installing new products. Emergency repairs in homes and commercial settings often needed plumbers as soon as possible.
Asbestos use in the plumbing industry was common for seven decades. Although, asbestos was controlled and phased out by the mid-1980s, many plumbers continued being exposed to asbestos in old products. That risk remains today when plumbers encounter vintage asbestos materials.
Plumbers and Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos appeared as an ideal additive to many products used by plumbers. Asbestos is an inert material with excellent thermal transfer properties. Many hot water pipes were asbestos-wrapped, keeping temperatures uniform and constant. Asbestos is fire-resistant, making it safe for plumbers to cut, weld and braze around. And asbestos is non-corrosive so steel pipes were protected from rust. Finally, asbestos was inexpensive, easy to work with and widely available.
Mesothelioma Justice Network Brief
Plumbers were exposed to asbestos through many products. Some were in new materials installed in current construction projects. Other materials were in old buildings they repaired or maintained.
These are some of the asbestos-containing products exposing plumbers:
- Pipe insulation
- Joint compound and gaskets
- Cement powder
- Asbestos paper and sheeting
- Laminated asbestos felt
- Pipe blocks
- Welding rods and protective equipment
Most asbestos plumbing materials are relatively safe and stable once installed, sealed and left alone. But that didn’t happen until plumbers cut, sawed, sanded and scraped their products to fit and finish jobs. This manual manipulation is the worst thing plumbers could do for asbestos safety.
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.
Asbestos fibers release into the air by two ways. One is by manually modifying asbestos materials that dislodge tiny fibers that become airborne. The other equally dangerous process is tearing apart old products where asbestos has dried and turned friable. That’s the term for asbestos breaking down and becoming dust. No matter which process for creating airborne asbestos dust, they both can cause mesothelioma.
Plumbers and Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer. Asbestos exposure is the sole cause of mesothelioma, and it happens when plumbers and other exposed workers breathe in asbestos dust. Asbestos particles are tiny shards that impale the lung or abdominal lining called the mesothelium. They’re impossible to remove and cause scar tissue as the body attempts to deal with lung irritation.
Asbestos fiber deposits can remain dormant for anywhere from 10 to 50 years. Eventually, asbestos tumors to turn into the malignant tumor disease called mesothelioma. This happens without most mesothelioma victims realizing they were a ticking bomb.
Compensation for Plumbers with Mesothelioma
If you’re one of the many plumbers who developed mesothelioma by exposure to workplace asbestos fibers, compensation is available to you. Coverage for your medical costs and lost income is possible and you can file a lawsuit for punitive damages. Families also can sue on behalf of members with mesothelioma as well as for wrongful death claims.