During the late 1800s, Ottmar Mergenthaler’s linotype machine changed the technology of print. The new machine made it possible to print a full line of text at once compared to the individual letters or words that were printed in the past. Linotype became the gold standard for printing and the demand for these new machines quickly grew. As more and more print shops invested in linotype machines, there was also an increasing demand for linotype technicians who could install and repair the machines. In busy print shops, linotype technicians were required as full-time staff members in order to keep operations running at a steady pace.
Linotype machines were often built with asbestos insulation. Asbestos worked to control temperatures and prevent the machines from overheating. However, linotype technicians would frequently need to adjust or remove this insulation causing tiny particles of asbestos to be released into the air. This exposure to asbestos was extremely toxic, leading to diseases like lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.
By the time the 1970s arrived, the printing industry had largely switched over to lithographs, making linotype machines incredibly rare. Linotype technicians were no longer needed, but many were left with growing health problems as a result of asbestos exposure during their time on the job.
Asbestos Exposure in Linotype Technicians
Linotype machine manufacturers each had their own unique design, using a mix of sprays and cements to create a buffer for the machine’s internal metal parts. However, nearly all linotype machines had some form of asbestos inside. It was most often mixed into cement and used to insulate the crucible, a pot of hot lead near the pump well. In order for a linotype machine to work properly, the lead had to be kept at high temperature without overheating the rest of the machine’s parts. Linotype technicians would frequently pack raw asbestos around the crucible to help prevent heat from reaching other parts of the machine.
Asbestos was also used in other ways to protect against burns. Some linotype technicians would even line the floors with asbestos sheets before disassembling a machine and laying parts across the floor. Others would wear aprons or gloves made from asbestos before handling machine components.
When repairing a crucible, linotype technicians would sometimes chip away the old asbestos cement and then apply a new layer. Oftentimes, asbestos residue would be transferred to equipment and tools, making even routine tasks dangerous. Asbestos was literally everywhere and linotype technicians faced a constant risk for exposure. This led to a serious increase in health problems among people working in the newsroom. In fact, one 1972 study found a steep spike in fatalities from lung cancer among people working in newspaper print rooms.
Linotype Technician Asbestos Lawsuits
Once the world fully understood the risk of asbestos exposure and linotype technicians started getting sick, lawsuits started popping up left and right. Several lawsuits involved linotype technicians and others who worked in the publishing industry where linotype machines were heavily used. In one New York lawsuit, the defendant died before the case was ever settled.
If you worked as a linotype technician and believe you have been exposed to asbestos or if you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness, talk to an asbestos attorney to find out if you are entitled to compensation and to learn more about your legal options.