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Aircraft Mechanics - Mesothelioma Risks

Mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart, and abdominal cavity, is almost always caused by asbestos exposure. Ninety percent of all mesothelioma cases can be directly linked to some form of asbestos exposure in patients' histories.

Before mesothelioma develops, microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled and lodge themselves in the lungs and the lining that surrounds it. The lining, called the mesothelium, is damaged by the tiny asbestos fibers. The immune system attempts to respond to the invaders, but the fibers are highly resilient. They continue to damage the mesothelium, and induce mutations that cause normal mesothelial cells to turn into cancerous mesothelioma cells. These cells begin to divide uncontrollably and in an unorganized way, creating a deadly tumor.

Contrary to popular belief, asbestos has not been completely banned in the United States. It is still used in many products, and is often found as a contaminant in many others. On July 12, 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a ban on most asbestos-containing products. In 1991, the regulation was partly overturned, thus making it legal to use some forms of asbestos. The list still bans the use of asbestos in materials such as flooring felt, rollboard, and paper. Additionally, any new uses of asbestos in products that have not historically contained asbestos are not permitted under the ban.

One place where asbestos is still commonly used is in the aircraft industry. Asbestos has many properties that make it desirable in the construction of planes and other aircraft. The material is highly resistant to extreme temperatures and voltages, making it ideal around superheated engines and very cold external temperatures at high altitudes. It is also fireproof, making it an ostensibly safe material for aircraft. It can also be used in high-friction situations, such as in break pads for aircraft wheels.

Due to its possible use in many airplanes, aircraft mechanics may be at risk of exposure to asbestos, and thus are at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma. If asbestos is left in place undisturbed, it is impossible to inhale, and therefore poses no health risk. However, aircraft mechanics are expected to disturb various parts of an aircraft in order to fix them. They may even be required to fix or rebuild a part that is made with asbestos. Therefore, mechanics may frequently disturb asbestos, releasing into the air where it can be easily inhaled by anyone in the vicinity.

If you are unsure about whether or not you are being exposed to asbestos, talk to your manager or employer. It would also be very prudent to read product guides very closely to determine whether or not asbestos was used to manufacture the products. It is possible to use asbestos safely, but only if the proper precautions are taken. This is very difficult to do, so it is best that the material is avoided; however, if there is no alternative in the construction or repair of an airplane, be sure that you have a respirator, gloves, and good protective clothing while working on the material. Such personal protective equipment should be provided by the employing company.

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Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Below are a list of occupations and trades that were at risk for asbestos exposure:

Last Edited: Thu November 14, 2013