Automotive production and assembly plants have been one of America’s employers for the past hundred years. This massive industry required hundreds of thousands of professional, skilled and unskilled workers to build cars, trucks, busses as well as many specialized vehicles. American assembly plants turned out millions of autos from 1920 to 1990. That was when asbestos was commonly used in manufacturing automotive parts and in building the factories themselves.
Every automotive assembly plant required products containing asbestos. Big players like Ford, Chrysler and General Motors didn’t have a monopoly on asbestos, companies that produced limited edition vehicles needed asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), too. In fact, practically every automotive system used ACMs.
Asbestos was added to automotive parts because it was heat resistant and fireproof. That made asbestos the perfect choice for auto parts subjected to friction and ignition. Automotive engineers considered asbestos the miracle material. Asbestos was lightweight, had excellent insulation properties, didn’t conduct electricity and was non-corrosive. Asbestos could be used for a variety of applications and was stable when blended with other raw materials. Also, asbestos was readily available and cheap to purchase.
Automotive Parts Containing Asbestos
ACMs were added to many automotive components to make them efficient and economical. There was little thought given to any negative aspects of using asbestos-based parts. That included paying attention to any health risks from exposing automotive plant workers to asbestos.
These are some of the automotive parts containing asbestos from the 1920s to the 1990s:
- Brake pads, shoes, drums and discs.
- Clutch facings and linings.
- Automatic and manual transmissions.
- Firewalls and engine hood linings.
- Radiator and heater hoses.
- Paints, sealants, and glues.
- Auto-body insulation.
- Engine gaskets and valves.
Every automotive assembly line worker had these components pass by them during production. Some workers had higher asbestos exposure when they disturbed asbestos materials by cutting, drilling and sanding them into fitted and finished products. All automotive assembly plant employees came across asbestos to some degree in their overall working environment.
Automotive Plant Construction and Asbestos Products
Most of America’s automotive plants were in the mid-northern states. Raw materials like steel were nearby making auto manufacturing efficient and economical. The cold central climate required auto plants to be heated and insulated. Again, asbestos was the leading choice for insulation and fire protection.
Not every auto worker was on the assembly line. The workforce included an entire staff to build and maintain the plant. Some were hands-on employees who manufactured auto plant infrastructure. Others had duties putting them around workers who directly handle building products with ACMs.
These jobs included:
- Boilermakers and high-pressure steamfitters.
- Electricians and plumbers.
- Welders and metal fabricators.
- Insulators, drywallers, and painters.
- Lathe, grinder and drill press operators.
- Repair and maintenance technicians.
- Janitorial and cleaning staff.
- Warehouse pickers and packers.
- Supervisors and quality control officers.
- Administration and clerical support workers.
All these workers came into contact with asbestos at some point before automotive assembly plants eliminated it. Eliminating asbestos in the industry didn’t happen quickly, though. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), spent years attempting to ban asbestos products with government legislation. Asbestos disappeared from most American autos by the 1980s, but Ford still used asbestos in brakes until the mid-1990s.
Automotive Assembly Plant Workers and Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos is relatively safe and stable once installed and undisturbed. Asbestos exposure happened when workers were cutting and fitting asbestos products. That was both on the line and around the building. Asbestos fibers are light and barely visible. Working with ACMs dislodged tiny asbestos particles sending them airborne where workers inhaled or ingested them.
Once asbestos fibers enter an auto plant worker’s lungs, they stick into the lining or what’s known as the mesothelium. They remain permanently fixed and, over time, these irritants create scar tissue in the mesothelium, then turns into malignant tumors. This disease is called mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma Justice Network Brief
Compensation for Automotive Assembly Plant Workers with Mesothelioma
If you’re one of many auto plant workers who developed mesothelioma from workplace asbestos exposure, you’re eligible for compensation provided by negligent employers and producers of asbestos-containing materials. That includes funds for medical costs, lost wages, and punitive damages. Families can file claims for relatives suffering from mesothelioma as well as file lawsuits for wrongful death cases.