Look around you. Pipes are everywhere. Some are small. Others are huge. They’re made of a variety of materials, and all sorts of chemicals, fuels, and solutions – and even plain old air – flow through these multi-shaped tubes every minute of every day. You’ll find them in homes as well as in commercial and industrial buildings and they are essential to the daily operation of everything from HVAC systems to other more complicated industrial processes.
A pipefitter, sometimes also called a steamfitter, is responsible for creating, organizing, assembling, maintaining, and repairing pipe systems, usually of an industrial nature. Unlike plumbers, pipefitters work with high pressure systems and are usually charged with tasks such as welding, cutting, threading, and bending.
Pipefitters work (or may have worked) in a variety of industries, including:
• Steel plants
• Chemical plants
• Power stations
• Auto plants
As such, pipefitters often work in tight quarters, at dangerous heights, and with materials that may be dangerous to their health. Asbestos is one of those materials.
Until the mid-1970s, dozens of manufacturers included asbestos in their products, intent on making them stronger and eager to avoid fires. Pipefitters worked with these products nearly every day while on the job in the nation’s factories and plants. These items include many of those listed below, manufactured by a variety of different corporations throughout much of the 20th century.
• Amosite Sheeting – This was used primarily for insulating industrial pipes and contained a high percentage of one of the most toxic forms of asbestos. A variety of other insulation materials also contained asbestos.
• Joint Compound – Sometimes referred to as filler cement, joint compound manufactured in the mid-century nearly always contained asbestos.
• Ductwork Connectors – These flexible, bendable strips of material were usually made of woven asbestos-containing cloth and were sized to fit each particular system and designed to reduce noise and rattling.
• Cement – Cement compounds of old contained plenty of asbestos, which was believed to make it stronger. It also made it extremely hazardous.
• Floor and ceiling tiles – While pipefitters may not have been involved in the installation of tiles, they often had to saw through such materials to make way for new pipes or to repair old ones. Tiles manufactured in the 1940s to 1960s, in particular, contained asbestos because of its aforementioned properties.
Chances are that pipefitters encountered countless other hazardous products while performing their everyday duties as valued tradesmen. Many pipefitters worked in their trade for decades and, as such, suffered very high levels of asbestos exposure. Though even a small number of inhaled asbestos particles can cause diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma to develop, individuals who spent their lives working as pipefitters have an extremely high chance of becoming a victim of such diseases.
Sadly, many of the companies that manufactured the products used by pipefitters had surmised quite early that asbestos was causing health problems for countless tradespeople. Nevertheless, most information was kept under their proverbial hats and not revealed until many decades later, when asbestos-related lawsuits began to be filed. Hence, many individuals have seen success in filing lawsuits against manufacturers who covered up the dangers of this once-widely-used toxic mineral.