Mesothelioma in Automotive Workers

Quick Summary

Automotive workers have a higher than normal risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. This is because many products used in the automotive industry were manufactured using asbestos, leading to asbestos-related conditions.

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Mesothelioma and Automotive Workers Explained

Automotive workers are responsible for repairing and manufacturing automobiles. These workers are routinely exposed to asbestos when they work on brake pads, gaskets, clutch linings, insulation components and other areas of cars involving friction. These products are all made from asbestos and often break down over time, releasing asbestos fibers into the air that can be inhaled or ingested by an automotive worker.

Asbestos was a big part of the automotive industry throughout the 20th century. When automotive workers service vintage automobiles or older vehicles, they come into contact with materials containing asbestos, particularly those products that easily break down due to friction.

There are current legislative practices and laws that relate to the repair, disposal and removal of asbestos-containing products in automobiles; however, asbestos use in the automotive industry was relatively unregulated until the late 1980s. Those who worked on automobiles prior to this time were still exposed to asbestos when working on certain parts in automobiles.  Some workers have been heavily exposed to asbestos, while others have been somewhat less exposed to asbestos.

Automobile mechanics and other workers in the automotive industry that were part of an automobile workers union might have been exposed to asbestos while working their trade. Union workers particularly at risk for developing asbestos exposure include workers who belonged to these automobile unions:

  • Indiana Local 907
  • IUE-GM Delphi-Valeo-DMAX Conference Board
  • United Automobile Workers Union (UAW)
  • Indiana Visteon (workers in the Ford company)
  • Michigan Local 436A FW
  • Meridian Automotive Systems in Michigan
  • Ohio Local 798
  • Moraine Assembly
  • General Motors in Ohio
  • Ohio Local 755
  • Delphi Chassis Kettering Operations
  • General Motors Corporation in Ohio

History of The Automotive Workers Trade

Throughout the present and past, automotive workers specialize in the building, maintenance and repair of trucks and cars. Because friction is a big part of what makes an automobile function correctly, manufacturers once turned to asbestos to make products because it was both strong and fire-safe. Components of cars that were made from asbestos included brake linings, brake pads, transmission parts, clutch facings and other brake parts.

When automobiles were first invented, the dangers of asbestos weren’t clear. As a result, many products used in automobile manufacturing were made from asbestos. Unfortunately, even after the dangers of asbestos became known to the world, workers continued to be exposed to the substance as part of their job. Asbestos exposure happened during automobile manufacturing, automotive repair and the replacement of automobile parts.

Asbestos became a hazard for automotive workers, particularly those working on cars built before the 1980s, when most products used to construct these automobiles contained asbestos. Nowadays, exposure to asbestos comes when workers refurbish vintage cars or repair cars built before the 1980s. The breakdown of automobile parts is the main source of asbestos exposure for workers in the automotive industry.

Not all automobile workers know when they are being exposed to asbestos. Many auto repair shops today provide their workers with respiratory equipment that, in part, protects their workers against asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, many automotive workers feel that the respiratory equipment is bulky and gets in the way of their job, so they opt not to use it.

Family members of automotive workers are also at risk for asbestos-related illnesses, including mesothelioma. Automotive workers expose themselves to asbestos and then bring the fibers home with them on their clothing, where family members can inhale or ingest. This makes family members just as likely to develop asbestos-related diseases as the worker himself.

Highest Risk Jobs For Automotive Workers

When an automotive worker services older cars or trucks to replace damaged parts, they release asbestos particles into the air that can be ingested or inhaled, resulting in asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the peritoneum, heart or lungs).

One job commonly performed by automotive workers is the replacement of brake and clutch equipment. This requires the worker to file down, drill and sand the brake pads and linings so that they become friable. This creates asbestos dust within close quarters where the worker can easily inhale the asbestos substance.

Much of the automotive worker’s job involves clutch and brake maintenance, as well as grinding down the brake linings so they are strong enough to withstand the braking of a car on the roadway. When these brake linings are ground down, asbestos dust is created and lands on the floor of the worker’s area. Even if the worker uses a wet rag over their nose and mouth when working on a motor vehicle, the rag eventually becomes dry and the asbestos particles can get into the air when the rag is used again.

Asbestos fibers are also found in brake drums. Brakes work by having brake shoes that rub against the brake drum so that an automobile can stop. This releases asbestos fibers that are inhaled by the worker who is responsible for replacing these brake pads or the brake drums.

Lawsuits about Asbestos

There have been many lawsuits on behalf of automobile workers and their families who were unknowingly exposed to toxic asbestos dust and came down with an asbestos-related illness, like mesothelioma.

If you were an auto mechanic or worked in the automotive industry prior to the 1980s, or you currently work on vintage cars that still contain many asbestos parts, you may be entitled to compensation for your illness.

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Remember that the lag time between exposure to asbestos and the development of asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma can be as long as 5 decades. With this in mind, the exposure you had decades ago could be responsible for a current asbestos-related illness.

At the very least, you should be screened regularly for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases to try and catch any complication from asbestos exposure before it becomes too severe.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

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