Are you a car guy…or girl? Many Americans are gaga over their automobiles. Some collect them. Others make a habit of buying old ones and rebuilding or repairing them so that they’re good as new.
For some individuals, every weekend is spent working on those cars until everything is just right and they can show off that masterpiece to their family and friends.
Or maybe you make your living as an auto mechanic. There are tens of thousands of certified mechanics in the United States, standing ready to service some of the 235 million or so cars and trucks on America’s roadways.
It’s a profession that Americans couldn’t do without, and most people will tell you that it’s super helpful to have a mechanic you can trust to work on your car(s).
Working as a mechanic comes with some risks, though the job is certainly not as dangerous as being perhaps a firefighter, an electrician, or even a pipefitter, right? Not necessarily. Anyone who works on an old car or on a car that contains parts not recently manufactured in the U.S. might be putting themselves at risk for asbestos exposure because of auto parts containing asbestos.
Consider the inside of a car. Many of the elements found under the hood and elsewhere in a car’s mechanical system create friction in order to function properly. That means heat is generated.
So, for decades, manufacturers of these so-called friction parts used asbestos in their products so as to avoid the chance for fires to develop.
Car-related items that may have contained asbestos include:
• Hood liners
• Brake pads
• Brake linings
• Brake blocks
• Clutch facings
• Transmission parts
• Heat seals
• Valve rings
• Packing materials
Just as with other asbestos items, if the asbestos in the above-mentioned parts is not disturbed, a problem is not likely. But because mechanics and DIYers generally perform tasks that involve moving and removing components, filing, drilling, etc., dust is generated and asbestos inhalation can become a problem, especially when a car manufactured prior to about 1975 is involved.
It is these older autos that represent the highest risk to the person doing the repairs.
Companies that manufactured asbestos-containing auto parts included:
• Johns Manville
• Owens Corning
• Cooper Industries
• RPM International
• Dana Corporation
• And many others
In addition, the fact that mechanics often work in small, unventilated spaces such as garages, makes the possibility of inhalation of fibers even more likely. This was especially the case decades ago when agencies like OSHA were not involved in making sure working conditions were safe for mechanics and others in similar positions.
Today, mechanics and their employers should be taking precautions to make sure that asbestos inhalation does not occur. Simple steps can help avoid an eventual cancer diagnosis. For example, auto shops should contain a HEPA vacuum system with components that can trap asbestos dust before it escapes.
OSHA also demands the use of low pressure wet cleaning methods when cleaning brakes and clutches, etc. It keeps airborne dust from escaping. Mechanics should never use water hoses or squirt bottles to clean parts and should be aware that items such as generic shop vacs are not sufficient for collecting asbestos fibers.
If you know someone who’s developed asbestosis or mesothelioma from on-the-job exposure as an auto mechanic, it’s important to gather as much information as possible about the contamination and to see an attorney to learn what legal rights accompany this negligent exposure. It may not be too late!