Mechanics and Mesothelioma

Mechanics and Mesothelioma

Are you, or were you, a mechanic and mesothelioma has wreaked havoc on your life? If so, you may be able to receive compensation. Today, approximately 800,000 people work as automotive mechanics who maintain, repair, restore, and modify motor vehicles of all types and sizes, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Working with asbestos-laced tools and parts, mechanics are now becoming sick or even terminally ill. Most mechanics and many of us did not know that asbestos could damage our health.
There are several diseases associated with asbestos, including mesothelioma or asbestosis. All mechanics must do is inhale the asbestos, and they are immediately at risk. Asbestos particles are so small that there's no way people can reliably see them once they get in the air, making them easy to swallow or inhale without realizing.

Once someone has inhaled asbestos, the asbestos strands embed in the lungs or the intestines. The body won't be able to defend against them; instead, the asbestos strands start reaching out and infecting the healthy cells.

How Are Mechanics Exposed to Asbestos?

Beginning in the 1970s, automotive parts makers gradually shifted away from using asbestos in their products. If they could not find a decent substitute, they switched to a less-dangerous form of asbestos. That means mechanics employed in the trade from the 1980s were less and less likely to be occupationally exposed to asbestos. However, it is still possible today to encounter the most dangerous type of asbestos if working on vehicles manufactured before the 1980s or on cars of more recent vintage that still have installed pre-1980s parts.

Who Qualifies As A Mechanic?

An automotive mechanic is anyone who inspects, maintains, and repairs gasoline, diesel, or electric-powered vehicles. Types of vehicles on which mechanics work include:

  • Cars
  • Motorcycles
  • Vans
  • Buses
  • Trucks
  • Farming tractors and harvesters
  • Military tanks and other self-propelled weapons systems
  • Golf carts

Many mechanics specialize in certain aspects of vehicle work. Some are specialized in brakes, while others limit themselves to air-conditioning systems. Others specialize in transmissions. Many automotive mechanics work only on diesel-powered vehicles and equipment (such as truck refrigeration systems).

Mechanics use their training and experience to perform tasks that include:

  • Diagnosis of vehicle problems
  • Testing of parts and systems
  • Repairing or replacing worn parts
  • Installing or removing aftermarket products

Mechanics and Asbestos Exposure

Working on breaks, transmissions, and engines is how mechanics experience asbestos exposure. Asbestos was incredibly useful for these vehicle parts. For example, asbestos use was to prevent the friction created by linings coming into contact with the rapidly spinning interior surface of the drums from warping the linings and causing heat damage to the vehicle.

There was a time not long ago when as much as 80& of the material making up a brake's linings would have been asbestos. However, you can still buy parts with asbestos in them. These are almost exclusively aftermarket products made overseas. They are not original equipment manufacturer products produced in the U.S.

Asbestos in Transmissions

In transmissions, the most significant source of asbestos was the clutch lining. Another source of asbestos was the gaskets that kept fluids sealed inside the transmission housing. Whenever a mechanic cleaned and cleared the powder from the clutch lining or assemblies, the asbestos in the powder got everywhere.

Asbestos in Brake Linings

From time to time, brake linings, clutch linings, and gaskets required removal. In removing, for example, a brake lining, mechanics invariably encountered a thick caking of blackish powder—the remains of the lining that had worn off due to the vehicle's driver operating the brakes over thousands of miles. Using a blast of cold air, mechanics cleared this powder filled with asbestos. Unfortunately, asbestos flew into the air whenever the compressed air hit this powder. The particles inside the powder filled the mechanic's garage.

As the days went on, mechanics continually breathed in the toxic and deadly air.

Asbestos in Piston Rings

Another way mechanics encountered asbestos was by performing engine work. The mechanic must thoroughly scrape off the engine block's old gasket material when installing piston rings. Gaskets typically contain asbestos.

Hood Liners and Asbestos

Hood liners also contained asbestos. If it were necessary to remove and replace one, chances were significant that the mechanic performing this job would experience asbestos exposure, increasing the likelihood of contracting mesothelioma. Asbestos is only dangerous whenever it becomes disturbed. Tasks like:

  • using a blast of air to clean a car part containing asbestos
  • scraping gaskets
  • and most engine tasks

How is Asbestos Dangerous?

If the asbestos is left alone, there is no danger, and people can work in relative safety. You want to think that asbestos particles are like light dust and can remain in the air for many days. However, the difference between dust and asbestos is you can see dust, whereas you cannot see asbestos.

While a mechanic might avoid walking through a large cloud of dust, they won't know the danger of the invisible particles of asbestos surrounding them. These unseen particles then become inhaled or digested, causing great bodily harm. The asbestos strands would then reach out to all the healthy cells around your lungs, heart, or abdomen, infecting them. These infections eventually turn into cancer, like mesothelioma.

Mechanics and Mesothelioma

It can take 10-20 years to notice symptoms of cancers or diseases caused by asbestos exposure. This delay in symptoms means mechanics don't know how sick they are until it's too late.

Makers of automotive parts containing asbestos knew of the health hazards associated with the mineral long before those dangers became a matter of public awareness in the 1960s. However, ignoring it and selling car parts was more manageable as the automobile industry boomed.

By the 1970s, outrage over asbestos grew so intense that manufacturers had little choice but to begin phasing it out. The problem was that not until the 1990s were viable substitutes for asbestos in various critical automotive applications. Even today, it is possible to find aftermarket brake linings, for example, still made with asbestos.

Additional Asbestos Exposure for Mechanics

Automotive parts were not the only sources of asbestos exposure. The garage center where they worked was likely riddles with asbestos. Some of the construction materials that once contained asbestos include:

  • Drywall
  • Bricks
  • Concrete
  • Insulation
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Roofing systems
  • Electrical systems
  • Water and sewage pipes

Asbestos was added to these building materials to make them stronger, lighter, and able to suppress noise, heat, and cold. These uses of asbestos helped maintain a comfortable temperature in the winter and summer months. Most importantly (especially in a workplace where flammable liquids and materials abound), asbestos was added to construction products to make it difficult for structures to catch fire accidentally.

If the garage was built with asbestos-coated materials, the mechanics inside were not in danger unless the materials were disturbed. For example, the drywall could be upset if a car hit the wall or a tool cabinet opened a gash in the wall to release the interior asbestos.

Additionally, ceiling tiles that broke after a weather event or water damage leaked asbestos into the air. No matter what was disturbed, the asbestos particles are now out in the air, posing a danger to everyone in the area because they have a high risk of ingesting or inhaling the asbestos.

Mechanics and Asbestos Exposure From Power Tools

Every mechanic uses power tools to fix things easier and complete their tasks even faster. Most devices in a garage or a service center are either air-powered or powered by electricity, either A.C. or D.C.

Air-powered tools are connected to a compressor to give them power, and these compressors can run on gasoline and diesel fuel or be electrically powered. Now, the electrically powered compressors use voltage and currents of energy to spin the motor that connects to the compressor. This spinning causes heat for the motor, often contained by asbestos materials. Electoral tools that generated heat were used with asbestos to control the heat.

The asbestos remained inside the tool because that's where the engine was, but it could get out into the air whenever a mechanic opened the engine for repairs. The powder inside the engine was full of asbestos, which needed to be blown out for repairs.

Some mechanics would take a breath and blow very hard to disperse the powder or blast into it with compressed air to clean the motor enough for repairs and servicing. Both of these methods would cause the asbestos to scatter, often floating upward towards the mechanic. Then they could be inhaled or ingested by the mechanic and the people in the area using the tool.
Once the asbestos fibers are breathed or swallowed, they will travel deep into the lungs and intestines, producing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma or asbestos lung cancer. However, this isn't a fast process, and most mechanics get asbestos-related illnesses decades after the initial exposure.

Mechanics' Rights to Compensation After Asbestos Exposure

Mechanics suffering from asbestos-related diseases have some answer to their troubles in the form of financial compensation. Mechanics can take on the companies who exposed them to asbestos through the legal system and can often gain compensation for their medical bills and settlement that makes up for the loss of income you have gained from being out of work due to the disease.

All a mechanic would need to talk to a lawyer or a law firm and present a case where you can connect the asbestos exposure to this company. Law firms and lawyers can help them hold these companies accountable, especially since most companies don't want to take on asbestos-related claims in court. They typically settle out of court because it's more cost-effective than a lengthy court battle.

There are a lot of court cases and settled cases where things have gone in favor of mechanics, and all mechanics have a right to gain compensation from companies that knowingly exposed them to asbestos.

Do You Have A Claim?

If your health has been affected by exposure to asbestos, report it here.
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