Mesothelioma in Electricians

Quick Summary

The electrician is at the greatest risk of inhaling or ingesting asbestos when they repair older wiring systems during renovation projects on older buildings. The daily exposure to these materials causes an unnecessary exposure to asbestos and the later development of asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma.

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Mesothelioma in Electricians Explained

Electricians are responsible for the installation and maintenance of various types of electric systems. As part of their job, they must find themselves in small spaces such as in-between walls, in crawl spaces and attics that are insulated with asbestos-containing materials. They are also responsible for the installation are repair of electrical panels that are not up to code. This involves reading blueprints on the job and dealing with wiring that has been insulated with asbestos.

Licensed electricians often work alongside engineers and architects when new buildings are being designed or older buildings are being renovated. They also consult on jobs requiring the installation of elevators and various types of power systems. Prior to the 1980s, homes and other buildings were insulated with asbestos. The insulation was not just in the walls of the buildings, but these materials were also used to insulate plumbing fixtures, boilers and electrical systems.

The History Of The Electrical Industry

Electricity dates back to the latter part of the 19th century. When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, many homes were built with electricity to power the light bulbs used in the homes. The electrician industry was born and many new electricians worked in the construction of homes and other buildings that required electricity.

Electricity began to be used on a widespread basis fairly quickly so, by the beginning of the 20th century, electricians worked steadily in new building construction and in the maintenance of electrical systems. This was potentially dangerous work for many reasons. Not only were electricians exposed to the hazards of working with electricity, but they were required to work on construction sites where asbestos was used to insulate not only the buildings, but the wiring providing electricity to those buildings.

Electricians began by working as apprentices to other electricians. They would build electrical systems as part of a highly specialized trade that required them to work on various job sites where asbestos products were used. This includes not only electrical systems, but also in the making of the walls, floors and insulation used in the building process.

Electricians are highly trained to do the job they do and must be licensed in order to work in the industry. The training period and apprenticeships are quite long and the electrician often works for many decades on the job, both in installing new electrical systems and in repairing broken electrical systems.

Nowadays, asbestos isn’t used in the making of new construction products, but electricians are still exposed to asbestos when they work on an electricity system in older homes and buildings being renovated. While they are working on the job, insulation is being torn out and this insulation is often highly toxic, containing asbestos fibers that have broken down and become airborne, where the electrician can inhale or ingest the toxic fibers.

Electricians and Asbestos

Up until around 1980, electricians commonly suffered from exposure to asbestos as part of their job. Asbestos was valued in the electrician and construction business because it was fire-proof and extremely heat resistant. This meant that it was safe to use around electrical wiring and posed less of a fire hazard than other insulation products.

Asbestos was also used in the drywall that covered electrical systems. Electricians needed to break through the drywall in certain circumstances, in order to get at the elecdtrical systems they were working on. This required them to cut or drill into insulation and drywall and tiling in order to get at the insulated wires that needed to be repaired. It was through this type of process that airborne asbestos particles were created so that anyone working in the area could inhale or ingest the asbestos particles.

Electricians also work in tight spaces that are not well ventilated. This means that they breathe in high concentrations of asbestos when working on electrical wiring. Dust accumulates while the electrician works and much of this dust contains asbestos particles that are breathed in if the electrician doesn’t use specialized respirator equipment. Unfortunately, few electricians do this and become exposed to asbestos as part of their duties.

Prior to 1980, electricians often used insulating paper and/or insulating film as part of their job. The purpose of this insulating film was to prevent people from becoming shocked from wiring that was exposed on the job site. This paper and film needed to be cut down to the proper size. While cutting into these papers, the electrician was also exposed to airborne asbestos particles.

Electricians and those who worked under them had the responsibility for maintaining older wiring systems — many of which were insulated with asbestos or were behind drywall that contained asbestos. While the practice of using asbestos in these products was banned in the 1980s, many electricians work on homes and buildings that are older than that.

Electricians and Asbestos-Containing Products

There are a variety of products used by the electrician that contain asbestos.

Some of these products include:

  • Ceiling tiles
  • Floor tiles
  • Spackle
  • Thermal paper
  • Decorative plaster
  • Drywall
  • Electrical wiring insulation materials
  • Dement siding
  • Electrical cloth
  • Electrical panels
  • Electrical partitions

Asbestos isn’t used in most of these products today, but it wasn’t too long ago that asbestos was used in every one of these products. Electricians are still exposed to asbestos when they work with these products in older buildings.

Asbestos Diseases and Electricians

Electricians who, as part of their job, were exposed to asbestos in the installation or repairing of electrical systems were at risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases. Often they did this not knowing that asbestos was so dangerous and often, no symptoms of this exposure showed up until decades after the exposure.

Typical diseases electricians who were exposed to asbestos develop include asbestos-related lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. All of these diseases are highly fatal and result in symptoms such as shortness of breath, weight loss, coughing, wheezing and chest pain. The electrician usually believes that these symptoms are related to something else. It isn’t until a thorough evaluation takes place that the diagnosis of these asbestos-related illnesses is made.

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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