HVAC mechanics are responsible for installing and maintaining the systems that keep buildings cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They routinely work inside of homes and buildings where asbestos could be hiding. Many HVAC systems, particularly those that were installed before the 1980’s, may have asbestos components or materials. The buildings where these units are functioning could also have asbestos in the insulation, ceiling tiles, or floor tiles. Because of the risk of asbestos exposure, HVAC mechanics must be especially careful on the job.
The Hidden Dangers of Asbestos
While HVAC technicians might not view their jobs as dangerous, the work can be deadly when asbestos is involved. Each time you come into contact with asbestos, it increases your risk of developing mesothelioma, a type of disease that is often fatal. There are generally two kinds of asbestos that HVAC technicians may encounter on the job. The least dangerous type is “white” asbestos, but even this form can cause lung scarring and illness with exposure. Research has shown that repeated exposure can lead to cancer. The deadlier form of asbestos is amphibole. When you inhale small particles of amphibole asbestos, it can lead to fatal diseases like mesothelioma. One exposure can lead to life-threatening illness.
Asbestos was commonly used in home constructions prior to the 1980s because of its heat resistant properties. Its ability to withstand high temperatures, it was a popular choice for use in insulation, flooring, and ceiling tiles. Crocidolite, better known as “blue asbestos” was often used as insulation around wiring because it can effectively insulate against even high voltage electricity. Sometimes asbestos was mixed with other materials, making it harder to identify. These ACMs (or asbestos containing materials) are easily friable, meaning small fibers can be released into the air as they wear down. If these fibers are inhaled or ingested, it can lead to serious diseases decades down the road.
HVAC workers were not the only ones who faced danger from on the job asbestos exposure. When asbestos dust landed on clothing or skin, it could also jeopardize the health of loved ones at home who could come into contact with the toxins later.
The Risks of Mesothelioma
One of the most concerning things about asbestos is the length of time between exposure and illness. In some cases, it could take up to 50 years after exposure before disease sets in. The tiny fibers inhaled create scarring in the lungs and chronic inflammation. Over time, this can lead to shortness of breath, coughing, or chest pain. Mesothelioma is a serious disease and the only known cause is asbestos exposure. While doctors are still trying to find effective ways to treat mesothelioma, limiting asbestos exposure is the most important strategy to prevent the illness.
If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos during your time as an HVAC mechanic, you should alert your healthcare provider right away. Your doctor will likely decide to monitor your health through annual scans to watch for developing inflammation or tumors that could signal the onset of cancer or mesothelioma. You should also talk to a mesothelioma lawyer to determine if you can take legal action against the parties who were responsible for your exposure.