Whether they worked on an airfield maintained by the United States military or were part of the staff for a civilian airport, aircraft mechanics that worked on planes built prior to the 1980s are at risk for developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. Factors that influence the likelihood of developing one of these illnesses include how much asbestos the aircraft mechanic was exposed to and their working conditions.
How the Aircraft Industry Used Asbestos
Prior to 1981, asbestos was a regular part of all US Naval aircraft. It was commonly used in brake pads, engine insulation, adhesives, and electrical insulations. A cheap material that resisted hit, asbestos was useful in lessening the likelihood of fire in components that experience a lot of heat or frictions, such as brakes. Unfortunately, the stress that the components underwent during normal use or during repair caused portions to break off, releasing microscopic asbestos particles into the air. Those nearby at the time were then at risk of inhaling or ingesting those tiny fibers.
Asbestos exposure could also occur when parts were removed from the plane, damaging asbestos-containing epoxies, or when insulation surrounding the engine or electrical system was cut.
At the time that asbestos was in heavy use, the Navy didn’t realize how dangerous the fibers were. Once it became clear that asbestos posed a major health risk, they suspended its use in the aircraft. However, aircraft mechanics who worked with parts that contained asbestos are at a higher risk for developing mesothelioma than mechanics tasked with caring for a different section of the plane. Aircraft mechanics who served on U.S. Navy aircraft carriers prior to 1981 are at the greatest risk for developing an asbestos-related illness. Not only were they working on planes that had asbestos parts, but the ships they served on were also covered in asbestos paint and insulation.
Types of Asbestos and How They Impact Aircraft Maintenance Mechanics’ Health
There are two major categories of asbestos. Chrysotile, often called “white” asbestos, is the sole mineral of the serpentine group and was the kind most commonly utilized. Though not as dangerous as other types, chrysotile still poses a health risk. These spiral-shaped fibers are capable of entering the lungs and embedding themselves into the lining, causing scar tissue, and possibly tumors, to form. This can make breathing difficult and can greatly affect one’s quality of life.
Amphibole asbestos includes five varieties of asbestos with a needle-like shape. The needle-shaped fibers embed on the tissue lining the lungs, heart, and stomach. Over time, cancerous cells form over the fiber, and after 20 to 50 years, doctors diagnose the mechanic with mesothelioma. Crocidolite and amosite were the most commonly used amphibole asbestos and are considered more dangerous than chrysotile.
Asbestos-related illnesses are difficult to diagnose because of the long latency period between exposure and the first symptoms. Also, it’s often difficult to link an illness back to a specific point in a maintenance mechanic’s life. The good news, however, is that many companies established trust funds so that former employees who develop asbestos-related illnesses can receive compensation that helps cover medical expenses.
If you believe you’ve been exposed to asbestos in the course of your work, speak to your doctor. If you’ve already been diagnosed, consulting with a lawyer can provide you with insight as to your legal options.