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Auto Mechanics and Asbestos Exposure

Key takeaways: Because older cars (pre-1990s) were constructed with several parts containing asbestos, auto mechanics were (and are) at higher risk for asbestos exposure and consequent mesothelioma diagnoses. Asbestos was used in brake systems, gaskets, electric wiring, insulation, clutch disks and linings, and more. When mechanics welded, moved, beveled, or handled these parts, they released asbestos fibers into the air. The U.S. has since prevented car manufacturers from using asbestos; however, older cars and car parts produced in different countries still pose risks for mechanics.

Where was Asbestos Used in Vehicles?

Asbestos was frequently used in vehicles for its capacity to withstand heat and maintain structural integrity. It was used in the braking systems of cars–brake pads and linings, disk brakes, clutch disks and linings–and was used in valves, gaskets, and electrical wiring. Importantly, this is not an exhaustive list of asbestos use in vehicles: different car companies had different preferences and practices, so some cars likely contained more asbestos than others of a different brand.

Chrysotile asbestos, which is the most commonly used mineral fiber falling under the asbestos category, was frequently used in vehicular braking systems because of its ability to withstand heat and mechanical pressure. The known dangers of chrysotile asbestos–which was established in the mid-twentieth century–didn’t stop manufacturers from implementing it in their cars and car parts.

How Were Auto Mechanics Exposed to Asbestos?

When mechanics replaced brake systems, faulty parts, changed gaskets, or sawed, handled, beveled, welded asbestos-containing parts, they were exposed to asbestos. Besides handling the asbestos products themselves, engaging in normal shop-based activities was a source of exposure: cleaning off tools, using contaminated rags, or vacuuming the shop all released airborne asbestos fibers. Because asbestos is only quantifiably dangerous when airborne, these “normal activities” and handling of parts likely posed a greater risk for mechanics than the parts themselves. Anything that physically released asbestos fibers was a site of exposure for auto mechanics. It’s fair to assume that they were exposed to asbestos most, if not every day, at work.


Is Asbestos Still Used in Vehicles?

In Western countries, and specifically the United States, asbestos use has largely been curbed and even banned. American car companies stopped using asbestos in their vehicles and parts in the 1990s, around the same time as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intervened with a partial ban on asbestos products. However, cars not affiliated with American companies were only subject to the regulations of their own countries. While modern-day cars might not pose the same breadth of risks that older cars did, it’s important to remember that a.) some countries that produce vehicle parts still use asbestos; b.) older cars still in use likely contain asbestos; c.) exercising caution while working on older cars at home is critical. If you suspect asbestos use in your vehicle, don’t handle, touch, or move it; asbestos is much safer when it’s not airborne.

In a 2022 proposition that recently passed (March 2024), the EPA is enacting a preemptive ban on the import, sale, use, and distribution of chrysotile asbestos. Chrysotile asbestos was the only type of asbestos that was still in contemporary, albeit regulated, use in the United States. Now, Americans will be protected from asbestos use in other countries in the form of imports, packaging, and, of course, car parts.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please call The Halpern Law Firm at 1 (800) 505-6000. We are here to help you navigate the legal process of filing a claim to receive compensation for your cancer diagnosis. We help mesothelioma victims and their families in Pennsylvania.

Sources: at-is-asbestos %202022%2C%20EPA%20Proposed,2020%20chrysotile%20asbestos%20risk%20evaluation. anics-epidemiology-in-context-2161-1165-1000340-101473.html

Written By Carina Filemyr  

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