Pipefitters and Asbestos Exposure

The pipefitter trade is made up of individuals that have the skills necessary to design, fix and even install the systems of pipes that can be found in large buildings and even within manufacturing facilities. Their trade puts them at an increasing risk for exposure to asbestos.

Understanding the Background of the Pipe Fitter Trade

There are a number of different pipe systems in buildings throughout the world. The pipes also have varying materials that pass through them. Some of the things that may pass through include air, steam, gas and even human waste. The individuals that are going to be carrying out work on these pipes in small areas are often called plumbers. The individuals that are working in locations where gas and liquid is transported at high pressures are called steamfitters.   

Pipefitters that were working between the 1940’s and the 1980’s are the individuals that faced increased levels of exposure to asbestos. This is because it was used a lot in order to provide insulation for the pipes. Most of the exposure to the asbestos happened on a regular basis and most pipefitters didn’t even know it.

Asbestos Exposure to Pipefitters

Pipefitters did a number of things that exposed them to asbestos. This included planning jobs, working on construction systems and even installing and fixing different systems. They often carried out jobs that were in very close quarters to asbestos, making it even more dangerous to them as they inhaled the asbestos fibers. They often carried out these jobs in locations without any protection.

There are a lot of different products that are cut and sanded when it comes to being a pipefitter.  It was fairly common for paper containing asbestos in it needed to be cut and then sanded to fit in a specific location. Thus allowing asbestos dust to be released into the air and then inhaled into the lungs.

Pipefitters use gaskets as well and these too were made from asbestos. They were also cut and sanded to fit. Most professionals would work on old pipes and replace old parts with new ones. This was just one more risk and hazard for the workers.   

Products with Asbestos Used by Pipefitters

Aircell – This is a paper that was used to wrap pipes. It had asbestos in it. This often looks like cardboard and some well-known brands include Asbestocel and Carcycel.

Block Insulation – This is when asbestos is combined with other materials for binding purposes, which was then used to insulate the pipes. The surface on the outside may not have had a covering but when it did it was a simple cloth created with tar paper.

Here is some of the block insulation that was used by pipefitters:

  • Amosite Sheeting – This was used for insulating pipes and it had a variety of asbestos fibers in it.
  • Carbonate of Magnesia – This is a combination of magnesium carbonate and asbestos.
  • Diatomaceous Earth with Asbestos Fiber – You will see that this is diatomaceous silica that has been mixed with asbestos. It was used because it could be used with temperatures that were as high as 1900°F.
  • Hydrous Calcium Silicate – This was often called “Calsil” and it was made when lime and silica was mixed with asbestos. It was used during mechanical processes.
  • Elbow/Joint Compound – This was used as filler and may be called insulation cement or mud. It had asbestos and even bonding clay in it. It was used to help seal the joints of pipes as well as their elbows.   
  • Asbestos Sponge Felt – This may also be called laminated asbestos felt. It is made with made by combining asbestos with magnesia.

Pipefitters at Risk for Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer, and Asbestosis

In the middle of the 1970’s, it was discovered that those who were working around asbestos were at risk of developing different complications such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and even asbestosis. Here are some explanations of each:

Mesothelioma Cancer

This is only caused by asbestos and there are three main types: pleural mesotheliomaperitoneal mesothelioma and pericardial mesothelioma. They will impact the lining around the lungs, heart and abdomen.

Lung Cancer Related to Asbestos

Lung cancer can be caused by a number of different things ranging from asbestos to even smoking. It has been found that those who smoke, and have been exposed to asbestos, are at a higher risk of developing asbestos-related lung cancer.


Asbestosis will only develop from exposure to asbestos It impacts the lungs as scar tissue builds up, causing blood flow to become restricted. This makes it very difficult to breathe.

It could take up to 40 years for someone to develop these conditions once they have been exposed to asbestos. Lung cancer could take up to 10 years or longer whereas mesothelioma and asbestosis could develop in 30 or 40 years.

Some of the signs and symptoms that you may experience will include trouble breathing, pain in the chest and even a cough that is dry or continual. There may or may not be blood with the coughing. Those that were exposed to asbestos, and that have symptoms should be seen by a doctor to help improve their survival rate.