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Are Mechanics at Risk from Asbestos Exposure?

This article was updated in August 2022 for accuracy.

Commerce in the United States would quickly grind to a halt without the efforts of mechanics. After all, mechanics in a number of transportation industries keep tractor-trailer trucks, trains, planes, automobiles, and other vehicles moving. Plus, many of us who rely on automobiles as part of our daily transportation willingly admit that we are at a loss when something mechanical goes wrong. In those instances, we rely on hard-working, well-trained mechanics to diagnose and repair whatever ails our motor vehicles.

As a result, there are approximately 783,000 automobile mechanics working across the United States as of 2019, making an average salary of about $43,000 per year. But how do these mechanics fare in terms of occupational hazards? In this article, we’ll consider whether past and present mechanics might have been exposed to asbestos.

Mechanics and Potential Exposure to Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with natural qualities that have made it popular in many industries throughout the years. Asbestos fibers are both strong and heat resistant, so the material is effective at absorbing and dissipating heat. Therefore, the mineral was often used in both automobile brakes and clutches (as well as a number of other automobile parts). It made sense, at least before the dangers of asbestos were understood, because those automobile components can both produce a lot of heat.

By the 1990s, due to health concerns surrounding exposure to asbestos, American automobile manufacturers reduced or abandoned their use of parts containing the mineral. Unfortunately, things have been slower to change in the aftermarket industry. Data shows that even after abandonment by U.S. manufacturers, from 2006 to 2014, over 8 million pounds of asbestos – including raw asbestos, hazardous waste, and products containing asbestos – were shipped to the U.S. from overseas. The majority of the products containing asbestos were roofing materials and auto parts, namely brakes and clutches.

Such brakes can be purchased by anyone from the corner mechanic to the backyard DIY person. A 2017 Freedonia Group article noted at that time that cheap brake pads from China and India were still more likely to contain asbestos. Since then, some states, as well as industry trade groups, have taken steps to adopt standards better limiting exposure to asbestos.

The problem is that many parts containing asbestos still exist for sale and are in many cars on the road. Mechanics who work on these parts can still be exposed to asbestos.

The Dangers of Asbestos

Asbestos in its natural mineral state is generally not considered to be dangerous. However, once asbestos is disturbed, asbestos fibers can become airborne and inhaled. A person who inhales the fibers over a long period of time can develop serious illness, including mesothelioma. Asbestos is widely regarded to be a human carcinogen and has been classified as such by multiple organizations, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

Unfortunately, mechanics who work around parts containing asbestos can be exposed to these dangerous airborne particles. For example, when a mechanic (or another person) removes a clutch cover, a brake disc or drum, or even the wheel from a motor vehicle, brake dust or clutch dust is often visible. If the vehicle had parts with asbestos, the dust could include asbestos fibers.

In the past, mechanics were not always educated on the dangers of asbestos, how to limit activities that disturbed it, and how to keep from inhaling it. For current mechanics, we have provided a link to the EPA’s list of best practices for preventing asbestos exposure among brake and clutch repair workers.

Call with Questions

If you are a mechanic who has suffered long-term exposure to asbestos, you may have questions about mesothelioma, the legal system, and your rights. Please give us a call, and one of our experienced mesothelioma attorneys will be happy to answer your questions.