Auto mechanics are trained professional who repair vehicles, including a number of vehicle parts, such as brakes, clutches, car air conditioning, and more. These workers are continuously exposed to a number of on-the-job hazards, yet, while most people think of slipping on oil spills or getting cuts and scratches, one of the biggest dangers to auto mechanics is still asbestos exposure.
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Auto Products Containing Asbestos
Despite popular belief, asbestos is still legal in the U.S., and it’s still used on a number of automobile parts. Although it’s not used in excess as it once was prior to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) strict regulations, the dangerous mineral is still sometimes used in auto parts. This is especially true of older cars, specifically vehicles that were manufactured prior to the early 1980s.
- Brakes: Asbestos in brakes can be particularly dangerous due to the brake lining wearing down through use, which can release asbestos fibers into the air. Fibers can also build up in the dust between the break drums.
- Clutches: Similar to brakes, asbestos fibers in clutches can present themselves during normal friction and wear and tear.
- Automobile Hood Liners: Hood liners are insulation that prevents cars from catching on fire, but the generally contain asbestos.
- Gaskets: Gaskets provide sealants that helps eliminate leaking in automobiles, many contain asbestos.
Auto Mechanics and Asbestos Exposure
When products containing asbestos are disturbed, asbestos fibers become airborne and permeate throughout the air. Asbestos fibers are microscopic, odorless, and tasteless, and can’t be detected by the human eye. They are easily and unknowing ingested/inhales, and remain in the body. Over time these fibers attach to the body’s major organ linings, and create scarring, which can turn into cancerous tumors. Eventually, the fibers can lead fatal illnesses such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and asbestos-related lung cancer.
For auto mechanics, brake and clutch functions, constantly grinding, releases asbestos fibers, placing workers at risk. When cleaning and maintaining cars, just by simply vacuuming it, auto mechanics are at risk of inhaling asbestos fibers. Since asbestos fibers tend to permeate around the vicinity (typically up to 80 feet), not only are auto mechanics at risk, but customers who enter auto shops may ingest/inhale asbestos fibers as well.
Other ways auto mechanics are exposed to asbestos include:
- Dusting the assembly area
- Spraying down dust
- Using a vacuum not strong enough to remove tiny asbestos fibers
- Failing to wear proper protection when working with brakes, gaskets, clutches, etc.
- Cleaning drum brakes with compressed air
Studies on Auto Mechanics and Asbestos
In November 2000, government-certified laboratories discovered asbestos contamination in both brake repair shops and gas stations in six states in the U.S. Deseret News U.S. & World reported that brake shops and stations in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Richmond, Seattle and Washington, D.C. all had chrysotile, a common but dangerous type of asbestos used in the U.S. A total of 31 dust samples were taken from various garages, and 21 of the samples contained asbestos.
According to Aaron Sussell, of the Cinncinnatti National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIH), the measurements taken during the study indicated a large amount of asbestos at the shops and stations.
“If the measurements are valid, that’s a very concentrated source of asbestos in the dust.”
Although asbestos is a proven carcinogen, brake manufacturers continue to use it because of its resistance to fire, ease of use, and its powerful insulation properties. Even though the EPA, U.S. Public Health Service, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have issued numerous warnings about the dangers of asbestos to mechanics (they even warned high schools and vocational schools that asbestos exposure leads to cancer), the dangerous mineral still remains legal.
According to OSHA’s director of the Office of Standards Review, Peter Infante,
“We don’t know how many cars that pull into service stations to have their brakes relined have old asbestos linings. We don’t know whether these workers are being exposed. We just don’t know.”
Manufactures That Sell Asbestos-containing Auto Products
The following companies, at one point in time, have sold asbestos-containing products. Keep in mind that some of these companies are now out of business. Some of the companies shut down when the EPA placed strict regulations on asbestos use. Other companies, still in business, are facing asbestos lawsuits after numerous workers from filed a claim after asbestos exposure.
- Austin Auto Parts Inc.
- Canton Auto Parts Inc.
- Advance Auto Parts
- Auto Zone
- Genuine Auto Parts
- O’Reilly Automotive
- Ren Auto Parts
- Potsdam Auto Parts
- Fisher Auto Parts
- Austin Auto Parts
- Globe Foreign Auto Parts
- Raymark Industries
- General Motors
- Ford Motor Companies
- Garlock Sealing Technologies
- LAS Replacement Parts
- Scanlon’s Auto Parts
- Pep Boys
- Forest City Auto Parts
Safety for Auto Mechanics
The EPA created a comprehensive brochure, specifically for auto mechanics, detailing how to stay as safe as possible when working around asbestos. The following safety recommendations are the key components:
- Only use a Negative-Pressure Enclosure/HEPA Vacuum System Method when dusting off brakes and clutches.
- Use only a low pressure, wet cleaning method with low-pressure spray equipment that’s designed specifically to prevent dust from becoming airborne.
- Never take your work clothes inside your home. Second-hand asbestos exposure can occur when you go to your home wearing dirty work clothes.
- Assume all auto parts have asbestos, as it’s not detectable by the human eye. Always protect yourself with the appropriate breathing mask and other safety gear.
- Do not bring work tools home without cleaning them thoroughly with hot, soapy water.
- Use ready-to-install parts.
Additional Help and Resources for Asbestos Victims
If you’ve been injured by asbestos, keep in mind that there is a good chance that you’ll qualify for considerable compensation. Remember to fill out our from to get your free Financial Compensation Packet, with information on asbestos and mesothelioma lawyers in your area. If you have questions or need additional assistance, contact us at 800-793-4540.