Numerous occupations can lead to the exposure of asbestos. Exposure in some occupations may not be as obvious as others. Routine exposure can result in a mesothelioma diagnosis, which is a rare, deadly cancer that affects nearly 3,000 Americans each year. There are several variations of asbestos, and every form of the toxic mineral is dangerous if it is ingested or inhaled. You may be surprised to learn what occupations can expose you to asbestos.
The Link Between Mechanical Work and Mesothelioma
Working as a mechanic, more specifically working with automobile brakes, provides a rich source of asbestos, increasing one’s risk of exposure. Mechanics are routinely subjected to various hazards in a repair shop. However, one of the more critical hazards deals with asbestos. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2018, there were 648,050 American automotive service technicians and mechanics employed in the nation. The top five states that have the highest employment of automotive service technicians and mechanics were California (65,210), Texas (50,500), Florida (45,770), New York (34,370), and Pennsylvania (30,390).
Mechanics have not only been previously exposed to asbestos, but they are still being exposed to it today. Automotive workers are typically faced with a type of asbestos known as “chrysotile asbestos.” The American Cancer Society refers to it as “white asbestos.” This is the most common type of perilous asbestos found in industrial applications. It is also used in textile, plastics, roofing materials, and automobiles. Repair shops are known for their poor air quality and insufficient circulation. The combination of the two keeps asbestos particles circulating through the air, placing mechanics in greater danger.
Certain auto parts like brakes and clutches contain asbestos because of its strength and heat-resistance properties. However, when parts begin to disintegrate, asbestos is released into the air and attaches to the clothing of the mechanics. Dust from the clutch and brakes can be released when a drum, disc, clutch cover, or wheel is removed from a vehicle or other equipment. The thousands of airborne asbestos particles cannot be seen with the naked eye.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented the EPA Asbestos Worker Protection Rule. It applies to inform professional automotive technicians and home mechanics who repair and replace brakes and clutches. The law establishes which type of repair shops must follow under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under 29 CFR 1910.1001. If a state does not operate under the OSHA-approved state plan, it must follow the EPA Asbestos Worker Protection Rule listed above.
The Asbestos Worker Protection Rule states this regulation applies to employers whose employees perform, “[r]epair, cleaning, or replacement of asbestos-containing clutch plates and brake pads, shoes, and linings, or removal of asbestos-containing residue from brake drums or clutch housings, you must comply with the OSHA standards in 29 CFR 1910.1001.”
A home mechanic is not required to follow the OSHA rule or the identical EPA Asbestos Worker Protection Rule. Still, it is highly recommended because it can significantly reduce their exposure to asbestos, which could lead to mesothelioma. The EPA recommends that you have your brakes or clutch serviced commercially because they have professional OSHA-compliant equipment. However, if you choose to service them yourself, the EPA suggests the “wet wipe method,” which OSHA has found acceptable.
The exposure to asbestos as a mechanic or any other related occupation should not be taken lightly. If an employer does not follow mandated guidelines, there could be serious consequences to your health. Mesothelioma takes roughly 10-50 years to present symptoms, and that long latency period is what affords protection to those exposed to asbestos in the workplace and preserves their right to take legal action.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported a jury verdict of 18.5 million dollars over a fatal asbestos exposure at Stuart’s Brake Shop in Arkansas. From 1971 to 1983, Burlie Thomas performed 10 to 12 brake jobs each day using brake-shoe linings manufactured by Honeywell International, Inc. at Stuart’s Brake Shop. The linings exposed asbestos, which Mr. Thomas inhaled during his time working as a mechanic at the shop. Mr. Thomas developed mesothelioma in March of 2017 and sadly passed that same year in December of 2017.
Performing automobile work in a repair shop or at home puts you at a 10 times higher risk of falling victim to mesothelioma than the rest of the population. If you worked in the automobile industry and you have developed mesothelioma, you should seek legal advice to review your potential remedies.
The Connection Between Mesothelioma and Plumbers
Being a plumber is a common occupation. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2018, there were 438,070 plumbers working in the United States. Most plumbers work as building equipment contractors, which makes up 15% of the workforce within the plumbing industry. The United States Department of Labor classifies plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters into the same occupation as they all share the same responsibilities.
Their job duties include the installation and repair of pipes that may carry liquids and gases. Plumbers usually work in enclosed spaces to locate and either install or fix a pipe. Some plumbers are tasked with repairing an outdated pipe that was insulated with asbestos. The older the pipes are composed of friable insulation, which ignites asbestos fibers to be released into the air. Plumbers routinely cut, saw, drill, and sand, which also pushes asbestos particles fibers in the air. As soon as these fibers are inhaled, they can remain in your body for a lifetime. The fibers can cause scarring and inflammation that can lead to mesothelioma or other asbestos-related conditions.
Many in this occupation have not only been exposed to asbestos in the past, but some continue to be exposed to the toxic substance today. Some plumbers work for themselves and repair or install household appliances like laundry machines, dishwashers, or garbage disposals where the plumber may be exposed to asbestos. A plumber’s encounter with pipes is where they are most likely to be faced with the most exposure. Other potential asbestos hot spots include tanks, boilers, and ducts.
Firefighters are at risk of developing mesothelioma
Firefighters face a shockingly high rate of asbestos exposure. Cancer is actually the number one occupational cause of death for firefighters. They endure such a high risk when engaging in rescue operations. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were 321,570 employed career firefighters in 2018. The five states with the most career firefighters included California (32,910), Texas (29,110), Florida (22,690), Ohio (19,210), and Illinois (17,170). The National Fire Protection Agency estimated there was a total of 682,600 volunteer firefighters across the United States. So, between 2017 and 2018, there were over 1 million firefighters across the nation.
Firefighters that worked ground zero on September 11 are 32% more likely to receive a cancer diagnosis than the general population and among other career firefighters. Since the latency period is usually a decade or more, the number of firefighters and other first responders is starting to emerge with a diagnosis of mesothelioma and other forms of cancer.
In line with an article published by CNN on September 2, 2011, “[r]esearchers have reported the presence of hundreds of compounds in ground zero dust, among them known carcinogens. Potential cancer-causing agents such as asbestos that coated the Trade Center buildings’ lower columns, and benzene, a component of jet fuel that caused uncontrollable fires when planes barreled into the twin towers, have been a cancer concern for researchers.”
The firefighters and first responders at ground zero inhaled a high volume of particles and gases. Chief medical officer with the New York City Fire Department, Dr. David Prezant, stated, “[t]hose particulates are not just dust, they are dust-coated with the same chemicals that were in the air in terms of the gases, sometimes, actually, getting deeper into the lung or better penetrating into the blood circulation because they’re carried on a particle.”
Firefighters are exposed to dangerous particles daily. It is a dangerous profession; not only do firefighters have to be mindful of the potential structural risks during a fire, but also the toxins in the air. There are a few common asbestos-containing materials found in buildings that you should be aware of:
- Flooring (including cement floors), flooring adhesives, and vinyl tiles
- Siding, sheets, and sealant
- Millboard for electrical panel, plastic, and wiring
- Roof shingles
- Insulation for boilers
- Pipe Insulation
- Attic and duct insulation
- Spray-on fireproofing and coating
There are several more products that contain asbestos, and they mainly include friable and nonfriable materials that set asbestos fibers in place. Many homes and buildings constructed before 1980 contain several asbestos-containing materials and other respiratory toxins.
In 2017, the National Fire Protection Agency reported that, on average, “a fire department responded to a fire every 24 seconds in the United States. A structure fire occurred every 63 seconds, a home fire occurred every 88 seconds, and an outside property fire occurred every 51 seconds. Fires occurred in highway-type vehicles every 3 minutes and 8 seconds.” The Firefighter Cancer Support Network has expressed, “[c]ancer is the most dangerous and unrecognized threat to the health and safety of our nation’s firefighters.”
The key difference between a firefighter versus other occupations is that firefighters can be exposed in a single encounter with asbestos-filled smoke or debris. In contrast, other occupations are gradually exposed to asbestos but on a regular basis.
Firefighters can work to limit their exposure to asbestos. They should wear protective gear, especially a respirator or SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus), while on the scene of a fire. The respirator prevents exposure risks by blocking dangerous toxins. The NFPA sets forth regulations that fire departments are obligated to follow, as it is spelled out in the NFPA Code Section 1851. By following this code, firefighters can circumvent unnecessary exposure to respiratory toxins.
Firefighters should check their gear to look for any damage such as rips or tears. The U.S. Fire Administration has worked closely with the National Institute for Occupational Health by conducting research to identify the relationship between the occupation and cancer. A multiyear study led by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Department of Public Health Sciences from the University of California at Davis.
The study evaluated cancers and cancer deaths through 2009 among nearly 30,000 firefighters from three large cities (San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia) who were employed in the occupation since 1950. The researchers concluded that “[t]he population of firefighters in the study had a rate of mesothelioma two times greater than the rate in the U.S. population as a whole. This was the first study ever to identify an excess of mesothelioma in U.S. firefighters. The researchers said it was likely that the findings were associated with exposure to asbestos, a known cause of mesothelioma.”
Based on the research performed throughout the years, firefighting is one of the nation’s riskiest occupations. Firefighters face multiple health risks as they could come face to face with asbestos, which could present long-term health risks for developing mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related disease.
Mesothelioma and Construction Workers
Construction workers are aware of the importance of construction site safety, but are they aware of the potential health risks that come with it? Construction workers have a high risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. Construction jobs are to blame for the majority of asbestos exposure. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that nearly 25% of those who die of asbestosis worked in the construction industry.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues to rank the construction occupation as one of the most hazardous industries in the nation. It is up in the ranks along with the mechanic, plumber, and firefighter occupations. Many buildings constructed before 1980 contained asbestos. A considerable amount of flooring and roofing materials still contain asbestos, which places current construction workers at risk of exposure.
The two sub-occupations under the construction umbrella that are at the highest risk of asbestos exposure are home renovators and demolition crews. However, it is essential to note that each trade under construction has its own set of occupational hazards. There is an ample amount of trades that are at risk of exposure to certain respiratory toxins:
- Crane and bulldozer operators
- Insulation workers
- Drywall, plaster, and insulation workers
- Masonry workers and bricklayers
Moreover, drywall and drywall tape in older buildings often contained asbestos. Workers in this occupation frequently use power tools or other sanding equipment; Therefore, drywall workers and plasterers are at an increased risk for inhaling asbestos. This also applies to masons, bricklayers, and painters because their job requires the use of certain tools that releases a higher concentration of asbestos fiber in the air. A substantial amount of construction materials contain asbestos. A few commonly used products include duct tape, joint packing, textured paints, siding panels, and insulating cement.
A study released in August of 2019 revealed that construction and trade workers employed at the Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear sites are routinely exposed to numerous hazards during the construction, maintenance, or cleanup of the facility. Since 1996, surveillance on 35 Department of Energy sites were studied to determine if the construction workers were at risk for developing diseases related to occupational exposures.
The recent study was based on the findings from a screening program funded by the Department of Energy to provide construction workers with the medical screening necessary to allow for earlier disease detection. As part of the screening, researchers from the Building Trades National Medical Screen Program (BTMed), The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), and Duke University and the UMD School of Medicine, gathered the medical and occupational history from construction and trade workers. This allowed them to receive and review all labs, x-rays, and comprehensive exams.
Between 1988 and 2016, there were 24,086 workers involved in the study. As of 2016, approximately 5,205 of the 24,086 participants were recorded as deceased. The subjects of the screening program had been employed with the Department of Energy working on their sites for an average of 10 years. The study concluded that those within the construction population were still at risk for developing cancer, and it can be attributed to occupational exposures such as dust, fumes, and vapors.
Construction workers on any site should be aware of the potential hazards they may be exposed to. It is critical that construction workers, past and present, seek routine medical screenings to ensure their health is maintained. Continued medical surveillance can detect issues early on and allow for proactive treatment.
Occupational Hazards of Power Plant Workers and Mesothelioma
Historically, power plant workers that risked the most asbestos exposure were the hands-on employees. They installed and maintained electrical appliances and pipes. Studies have proven that the insulation used by the power plant workers contained asbestos and presented health issues later in life. The Plants also had poor ventilation which would trap the asbestos fibers inside the plant, allowing the toxins to circulate throughout the facility.
The exposure of asbestos was arguably preventable. That led to former plant workers to take legal action against the power plants and manufactures. Many products that are heat-resistant are to blame: asbestos blankets, panels, plaster, compounds, and pipe coverings. These products were more prominent in power distribution centers. Plants built before 1978 contained the highest risk, but even facilities constructed later can still potentially contain asbestos-containing materials.
The Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health issued an eye-catching study in 2016 on 1,130 subjects who were employed from 1954 to 1972 at the asbestos plant in Tyler, Texas.
The study revealed that “[a] significant excess number of deaths due to nonmalignant respiratory disease (asbestosis) and from select malignant neoplasms were identified. There were in total 23 mesothelioma deaths (4% of deaths), with 16 pleural and 7 peritoneal. The SMR for malignant neoplasms of the trachea, bronchus, and lung was 244 (with 95% CL 196, 300), suggesting that exposed workers from this cohort were nearly 2.5-fold (244 %) more likely to die from this cause as the general referent population. The analysis also showed that exposures of short duration (<6 mo) produced significantly elevated SMR for all respiratory cancers, lung cancer, and pleural mesothelioma.”
Those findings are shocking, as they prove that the plant workers in Tyler, Texas, had a 244% increased chance of dying from lung or throat cancer. Today, the risks appear to be decreasing due to stricter laws and regulations. However, those employed several years ago may have to face the consequences of asbestos exposure.
Occupational Hazards and Mesothelioma
The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety under the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has estimated that over 75 occupations have exposed workers to asbestos. Other occupations that expel a high risk of asbestos exposure include:
- Factory workers
- Steel mill and textile mill workers
- Boiler workers
- Shipyard workers
- Members of the Armed Forces
- Railroad workers
The prevalence of asbestos in the workplace is due to the fire resistance and insulation supplies used in various trades. It was mostly used for materials that were at risk of catching fire or overheating. Asbestos-containing materials were also used within the Armed Forces. United States veterans are, by far, one of the most affected groups as a result of occupational exposure. It was used in heavily in naval vessels and other military vehicles. Veterans affected by asbestos exposure may qualify for VA benefits.
The use of asbestos was used immensely through a number of occupations. It is still used in materials today, but laws and regulations set by OSHA and other organizations have implemented safeguards in an effort to limit exposure to asbestos. If you have worked in any of these industries, it is important to remember that symptoms of mesothelioma do not usually present for 10-50 years after the initial exposure. Asbestos exposure can also lead to other respiratory conditions similar to mesothelioma, such as asbestosis, laryngeal cancer, and many more It is vital to stay hyper-aware of your health and participate in routine health screenings.