For years, many industries relied on highly-skilled machinists. The exact nature of the job varied from one industry to the next. Some helped construct skyscrapers, others worked on piping systems, and more helped the Navy build ships and airplanes. The one thing they all have in common, however, is that if they worked in the field prior to the 1980s, they’re at risk of developing an asbestos-related illness.
Machinists and Asbestos Exposure
The United States relied heavily on asbestos from the 1920s-1970s. Most thought asbestos was a miracle material. It occurred naturally, resisted both heat and corrosion, and was affordable. It was perfect for making parts and insulation. Most of the tools and equipment used by machinists in all industries included some asbestos fibers. Whenever parts ground together, asbestos pastes were mixed, or asbestos paper was cut, the microscopic fibers were released into the air and unknowingly inhaled or ingested by the machinists who had no idea how badly the fibers would impact their health in 20 to 50 years.
The machinists exposed to the most asbestos were the ones involved in the finishing stages of a project, especially if that project involved making or installing gaskets. These machinists were responsible for cutting an asbestos graphite sheet and grinding it into the perfect size and shape. Both the cutting and grinding process released asbestos into the air.
Two companies that used machinists to make asbestos gaskets and sealants were Power Engineering and The John Crane Company. Both companies have been named as the defendants in multiple asbestos-related medical cases in which former employees sought compensation for their medical bills.
The machines and part the machinists worked with represent just one way they may have been exposed to toxic asbestos fibers. Even their protective clothing and blankets may have been slowly killing them. Since the clothing needed to be heat and fire resistant, asbestos fibers were woven into the material. If the clothing snagged or tore, tiny asbestos fibers flew into the air, putting everyone at risk.
Asbestos-Related Illnesses Machinists May Develop
The long latency period made it difficult for the medical community to pinpoint the reason so many machinists developed mesothelioma and asbestosis. It can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years following exposure for the machinists to develop symptoms of the disease. Finally, in the mid-70s, doctors made the connection and efforts were made to stop using asbestos. These moves protect future generation of machinists, but not the individuals who were exposed prior to the 1980s.
The three types of asbestos-related illnesses that machinists can develop are:
- Asbestos-related lung cancer
Despite advances in medical practices and technology, it continues to prove difficult to diagnose asbestos-related illnesses early. A majority of mesothelioma cases aren’t discovered until the cancer has developed into stage 3 or 4, at which point there isn’t much the medical community can do.
However, machinists who work with their doctors and are regularly screened and catch the disease early can use a combination of chemo, radiation, and surgery to slow the progression of the disease and drastically lengthen their life expectancy. If you believe you may have been exposed to asbestos, inform your doctor so you receive the appropriate screenings.