When people think of asbestos, they may imagine an older building’s rafters coated with the fibrous material. They also may believe that its use was banned outright in the 1980s with federal legislation. However, asbestos is still used in consumer products today and may be present right underfoot on your car’s brake or clutch mechanism.
Due to its excellent ability to protect and insulate against high heat and friction, asbestos was commonly used in older automobile manufacturing to protect parts that are constantly subjected to heat and friction: brakes, clutches and gaskets.
Though its use in the automotive industry has declined in recent years, there are still vehicles on the road today with brakes, clutches or gaskets that are coated with asbestos. Surprisingly, there has not been a federal ban on the use asbestos in the automotive industry, even though employees working with or around car parts coated with asbestos are at risk for asbestos-related diseases.
Since the mechanisms of brake and clutch pedals cause abrasion and friction that releases asbestos fibers into the air, automotive workers need to be extremely cautious when working around these mechanisms, especially in older vehicles. Using an auto shop’s regular vacuum may do more harm than good in spreading asbestos fibers since it may release asbestos fibers into the air. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that shops first seal off the mechanism with asbestos, then use a HEPA-filtered vacuum on the area. This would prevent dust from lingering in the air or on the clothes of workers, which can spread to other workers and even to loved ones at home.
Exposure to asbestos has negative effects on the respiratory system. Asbestos exposure can lead to asbestosis, a non-cancerous, chronic, progressive lung condition that makes it harder for the lungs to get oxygen into the blood. Asbestos has also been linked to two cancers. Lung cancer causes the most asbestos-related deaths. Mesothelioma, a rarer cancer that develops in the linings of organs like the lungs, heart and abdomen, results from short or long exposure to asbestos and can take years to develop. Almost all cases of mesothelioma can be linked to asbestos exposure.
Automotive workers are the unwitting victims of asbestos exposure, and every effort should be made to protect them from the dangers of exposure to the deadly fiber. If you or a loved one have developed an asbestos-related condition like mesothelioma and you suspect that working with auto parts is the cause, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney.