Asbestos in Automobiles
Cancer Risk for Automobile Workers
Asbestos in automobiles threatens the lives of automobile workers such as mechanics with the risk of developing asbestos cancers such as malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer. Asbestos can be found in the following parts of an automobile: valve stem packing, valve rings, seals, gaskets, hood liners, brake pads, flywheels, clutch disks and pressure plates. Asbestos was used in automobile parts because asbestos is heat resistant, flexible, durable and inexpensive. Automobile workers risk being exposed to asbestos while working with asbestos containing auto parts because these auto parts can release asbestos fibers.
How can Asbestos in Automobiles Lead to Asbestos Cancer?
Asbestos containing automobile parts can release asbestos fibers when disturbed. Disturbance encompasses activities such as cutting and hammering. Released asbestos fibers can remain suspended in the air for extended periods of time and are not visible to the naked eye. Thus, an automobile worker in the vicinity of asbestos fibers can inhale those fibers. Inhaled asbestos fibers can become trapped in organs such as the lungs and lead to the development of asbestos cancers such as mesothelioma disease and lung cancer.
Asbestos in Brakes
The physical characteristics of asbestos – its strength, ability to resist heat and cheap availability made it suitable for use in brake linings. At one point, asbestos brake linings were used on all vehicles. With the arrival of four wheel drive vehicles, asbestos brake linings were used for the rear wheels.
Those who work with brakes are at risk of asbestos exposure from the dust that worn brakes generate. When an air hose is used to clean brake parts,asbestos fibers are blown into the air and can be inhaled by people nearby. In addition, brake dust can cling to clothing and can affect others who subsequently handle the clothing.
What Types of Asbestos Cancer Can Automobile Workers Develop?
There are many types of asbestos cancer that an automobile worker can develop. Pleural mesothelioma is an asbestos cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs. This is the most common type of mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the lining of the abdominal cavity. Pericardial mesothelioma develops in the lining of the heart. The symptoms of mesothelioma are not unique to mesothelioma but maybe indicative of other illnesses. Common mesothelioma symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing, chest pain, abdominal swelling, fever and night sweats.
Asbestos Cancer and Retired Automobile Workers
Even retired automobile workers are at risk of developing asbestos cancer. This is because asbestos cancers generally have a long latency period i.e., it may take decades for the symptoms of an asbestos cancer to appear. Thus, automobile workers who stopped working with asbestos containing automotive products decades ago can and are frequently diagnosed with asbestos disease.
Household Members of Automobile Workers are at Risk of Asbestos Cancer
Even the household members of automobile workers are at risk of developing asbestos cancer through what is known as secondary asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers can cling to the clothes of an automobile worker who works with asbestos containing automobile parts on a regular basis. When a household member of the automobile worker washes those clothes, he or she can inhale the asbestos fibers and become susceptible to developing an asbestos cancer.
Treatment Options for Automobile Workers with Asbestos Cancer
At the present time, there is no cure for asbestos cancer. Research for a cure is underway at many respected cancer research institutes. Thus far, asbestos cancer treatment approaches are generally palliative in nature i.e., they seek to provide relief from the symptoms of asbestos cancer. Some asbestos cancer treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy (PDT).
Surgery involves physically removing parts of the body that have been affected by asbestos cancer e.g., lung removal surgery. This treatment option is typically viable during the early stages of asbestos cancer when the cancer has not spread extensively. Chemotherapy involves the use of a drug regimen to treat asbestos cancer. Some side effects of chemotherapy are hair loss, loss of appetite, fatigue and nausea. Immunotherapy involves manipulating the mesothelioma patient's immune system so that it attacks mesothelioma cancer cells on its own. Photodynamic therapy attempts to treat cancer by using light of a particular wavelength. Side effects of the mesothelioma treatment PDT are damage to healthy cells that are located close to cancer cells, skin discoloration and increased sensitivity to light.
Government Warnings about Asbestos to Automobile Workers
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a number of government agencies became concerned about the dangers of asbestos to automobile workers. These include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Public Health Service. These agencies were concerned about the deaths of thousands of automobile workers who worked with asbestos containing brakes and clutches. Determining the exact number of automobile workers who died from asbestos exposure related diseases was elusive because the symptoms of asbestos disease take decades to appear.
Government agencies also distributed literature to trade schools and high schools describing the dangers posed by asbestos to automobile workers. According to the EPA, asbestos fibers that can become airborne during a brake job can spread 75 feet from the asbestos source and inhaled by everyone present in a garage e.g. such as automobile workers and customers.
Automobile Workers Still at Risk Because Asbestos Has Not Been Completely Banned
In 1989, the EPA succeeded in banning all asbestos products. Two years later however, the asbestos industry in the U.S. and Canada sued the EPA and managed to put an end to the ban. In 1993, the EPA came close to getting the manufacturers of cars, trucks, motorcycles and buses that were to be sold in the U.S. to stop the use of asbestos within a year. The effort failed however, once the asbestos industry intervened. In 1994, OSHA was successful in setting workplace standards for workers in the asbestos industry. These standards provide some protection to automobile workers who work with asbestos products.
It has been reported that brakes on many new vehicles do not contain asbestos. However, automobile workers are still at risk because of the presence of asbestos in older cars and brakes sold as replacements.
Death Toll Expected to Rise for Automobile Workers who Worked with Asbestos
Asbestos in automobiles may claim the lives of more and more automobile workers in the future. According to one estimate, approximately 6 million mechanics have been exposed to asbestos containing brakes since 1940 and those exposures are responsible for about 580 excess asbestos –related cancer deaths per year. Within 10 years, the expected rate of deaths attributable to mesothelioma from brake dust exposure alone will be 200 per year. Further, for each case of mesothelioma, there may be dozens of cases of asbestosis for automobile workers.
Automobile Workers who were Exposed to Asbestos are Victims of Injustice
Asbestos exposure to automobile workers could have been prevented with the use of inexpensive protective equipment such as respirators. Many companies in the asbestos industry however, failed to provide workers with such equipment. Furthermore, many companies in the asbestos industry failed to disclose the lethal dangers of asbestos even though they knew about those dangers. The dangers were concealed in the interest of profitability. As a result, many automobile workers are being diagnosed with asbestos cancer at a time in their lives when they are financially vulnerable i.e. during retirement, and when they are physically unable to work due to asbestos cancer.
Asbestos in Automobiles: Additional Information
If you or a loved one worked in the automotive industry and is suffering from an asbestos cancer, you may obtain additional information on asbestos in automobiles by visiting these sites:
Automobile Workers (and Retired Automobile Workers) Suffering from Asbestos Cancer May Have Legal Rights
Automobile workers who have been diagnosed with asbestos cancer can turn to the asbestos lawyers of Weitz & Luxenberg. Weitz & Luxenberg asbestos attorneys are the leading asbestos lawyers in the U.S. The law firm was established in 1986 and has been specializing in asbestos cases since. Weitz & Luxenberg mesothelioma lawyers have won millions of dollars for automobile workers such as mechanics suffering from asbestos cancers such as mesothelioma. The Weitz & Luxenberg law firm accepts asbestos cases involving mesothelioma and lung cancer from all areas of the U.S. and certain regions of Canada. Weitz & Luxenberg lawyers have been recognized as the "Best Lawyers of New York" by New York Magazine. For a free case review from an experienced mesothelioma attorney, complete the form on this page.