Veterans Assistance

Garage Workers - Mesothelioma Risks

Automobile mechanics and garage workers are among the many types of workers at an elevated risk for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Before regulation hindered its widespread use, asbestos was a common material in brake pads, brake shoe linings and clutch components. As recently as 1998 - nine years after the Environmental Protection Agency issued its attempted ban on all new uses of the naturally heat resistant mineral - General Motors was still selling asbestos brakes on two new models. The Ford Company used asbestos brake linings in its Crown Victoria model until 1993 . Though asbestos is no longer used in the manufacture of new brake or clutch parts in this country, aftermarket and foreign-made parts may still contain asbestos as only cursory attempts have been made to regulate importation of the substance.

Brake shoes are the metal parts sandwiched between the wheel rim and the wheel hub. When a vehicle's brakes are applied, the shoe presses against the lining of the brake drum, creating friction and heat as it slows the vehicle down. For a hundred years, asbestos has been used in their manufacture - it's strong, it's cheap, it's plentiful and moreover, it's a natural heat retardant.

But asbestos is also a major health hazard, particularly under these circumstances. In the normal course of use, an automobile's clutch and brakes wear down, releasing asbestos dust into the clutch space and brake housing. When brakes are serviced and repaired, the mechanic risks inhaling that dust. Although the nation's auto mechanics may believe they're safe, nothing could be farther from the truth. In 2000, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer collected dust samples from the floors, work areas and toolboxes of 31 brake-repair shops in Seattle, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Baltimore, Richmond and Washington, DC, and sent them to an independent government-certified laboratory for analysis. The result? Twenty-one of the samples were positive for asbestos. The asbestos component of the dust ranged from 2.26% to 63.8%.

When compressed air hoses are used to blow dust from brake drums they can release literally millions of asbestos fibers in the area around these workers. Hitting the brake drum with a hammer can release up to a million fibers. And wiping up the residue with a squirt bottle of detergent and a rag only disperses the deadly particles over a wider surface.

According to industry experts, mechanics and other garage workers in this environment could be diagnosed with cancer at a rate of about 1.5 for every 10 workers, which is a much greater risk than the average population typically experiences.

Weekend mechanics who work with asbestos brakes and clutches in their own garages are at risk too - as are their families who also use the garage.

Three diseases are associated with asbestos exposure. Asbestosis is a chronic inflammatory condition of the lungs, with symptoms similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Asbestos is also linked to certain forms of lung cancer. Most deadly of all is mesothelioma, a malignant cancer that attacks the mesothelial lining of the body's internal organs and is invariably fatal; generally, patients do not survive longer than two years after diagnosis.

In 2006, there were approximately 773,000 professional auto mechanics in the United States . Their risk factors for developing asbestos related disease varied, of course, with mechanics specializing in clutch and brake work at the highest risk; however, contamination of the entire shop area increased the degree of hazard, impacting every employee in the garage. Sadly, many auto mechanics are unaware of their asbestos exposure until diagnosed with a life threatening disease like mesothelioma cancer, often years after the initial exposure took place.


Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

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

Last Edited: Sun July 26, 2020