Welders and Asbestos Exposure
At one time, blacksmiths welded metals by heating pieces in a forge and hammering them together. This changed when electricity brought about modern arc welding.
Arc welding involves running an electric current through metal components to produce a hot electrical short — or arc — when a welding rod strikes a seam in the metal. This generates enough heat to liquefy and melt metal parts into one piece.
American industries used billions of arc welding rods during the last century. Many welding rods contained a flux coating made from asbestos.
Welders used several welding rods per day and were exposed to asbestos dust during every project.
How Welders Were Exposed to Asbestos
Once metal joints were welded and cooled using asbestos rods, they were relatively safe unless disturbed. However, welders were exposed to enormous amounts of airborne asbestos when tiny particles detached from welding rods through smoke and dust.
Welders experienced additional asbestos exposure while smoothing out seams. The process of grinding welded metal produced dust that was full of asbestos fibers left behind from the welding rods.
Escaping asbestos exposure was next to impossible until welders stopped using asbestos-based rods in the 1980s. However, the arc welding process wasn’t the only way that welders were exposed to asbestos.
Welders’ protective equipment was also made from asbestos. Making matters worse, welders worked in dusty construction environments where other workers handled or installed asbestos-containing products.