Working as an auto mechanic puts you at an increased risk for a number of potential injuries. One of the most worrisome risks is asbestos exposure as it can lead to a deadly cancer called mesothelioma. Some car parts, including heat seals, clutches, and brakes, are made with asbestos, which can start to disintegrate over time. As auto mechanics work with these broken parts, they can unknowingly breathe in small particles of asbestos that eventually lead to serious health problems. To make matters worse, most auto repair shops lack adequate air circulation, increasing the likelihood that mechanics will breathe in dangerous particles which may make them sick.
Know the Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Before the medical community really understood the risks of asbestos, it was a popular material for car parts manufacturing because of its high resistance to heat. In some cases, brakes and clutches were manufactured using 30 to 80 percent asbestos, exposing an estimated 900,000 unsuspecting auto mechanics to small particles of this dangerous material. One of the most common auto mechanic tasks is blowing out brakes—and this is also perhaps the most dangerous when it comes to exposure to asbestos dust.
Hood liners are another common culprit for asbestos exposure. Asbestos is highly fire-resistant, which makes it a popular choice among automakers for insulating the hood. In addition, asbestos is also still used in some clutch parts, though it’s most common in older model cars. Gaskets, valves, and heat seals may also contain asbestos.
While modern auto part manufacturers no longer rely on asbestos, the dangers have never been completely eliminated. Even in the early 1990’s Ford continued to use brake linings containing asbestos. These parts are also still used in some imports like Land Rovers. Vehicles that are front-wheel drive carry a higher risk for asbestos exposure because of the front disc brake pads.
Studies have shown that 1 in 10 auto mechanics at brake repair shops and gas stations face a serious risk for developing cancer related to asbestos. Dust left on surfaces of garages and shops have been tested and routinely contain between 2 and 64 percent asbestos. Currently, the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency dictate that all personnel should wear protective suits and respirator masks in any environment where more than 1 percent asbestos is discovered. With such an increased risk of exposure, auto mechanics working with components that use asbestos face a higher likelihood of developing health problems like mesothelioma.
Due to the growing number of auto mechanics who have been diagnosed with asbestos-related cancers and mesothelioma, the United Auto Workers concocted a plan to build a $140 billion compensation fund for asbestos in 2005. The idea was that the companies who faced lawsuits for exposing auto mechanics to asbestos would contribute to the fund, with higher contributions required for those whose products were related to diagnosed cases of mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, this proposed fund never got off the ground. However, auto mechanics have initiated a number of asbestos lawsuits against companies like Abex, Pneumo Corporation, and Bendix in order to fight for compensations for their asbestos-related health problems.
Taking Medical Precautions
If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos as an auto mechanic, it’s important to alert your doctor. Mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed in the early stages, but if your healthcare provider is aware of the increased risk, it will improve the care your receive with earlier interventions. While asbestos is used less frequently now and is a known carcinogen, auto mechanics may still be exposed to it, especially in older vehicles. Be sure to take the necessary precautions to decrease your risk of inhaling asbestos when working with components that may contain asbestos.