Blacksmiths exposed to asbestos on the job may develop mesothelioma and other serious health complications. Many of the fire- and heat-proofing materials that blacksmiths used until the 1990s contained asbestos, putting blacksmiths in close contact with its potentially deadly fibers.
Mesothelioma and Blacksmiths Explained
Blacksmiths are masters of metals, forging new items and repairing old ones by heating metal and hammering it into its desired shape. While blacksmithing has become a form of art, often pursued by hobbyists or part-time enthusiasts, it used to be a highly respected trade throughout the world.
Asbestos helped keep blacksmiths safe from flame and heat, and was often also used to fireproof floors and walls.
Asbestos had many qualities that made it desirable across countless trades and blacksmiths appreciated its fireproofing and heat-proofing capabilities. Though blacksmiths may not have realized it at the time, much of their protective gear, including gloves, aprons and clothing, used asbestos-containing materials for this very purpose.
While asbestos may have kept blacksmiths safe from fire, it unfortunately endangered their lives in another way. Asbestos fibers that became airborne were often inhaled by blacksmiths and then embedded in the internal lining of the chest, abdomen or heart. Over time, these fibers can trigger cell mutations that result in mesothelioma, an extremely aggressive form of cancer.
History of Blacksmiths
Blacksmithing is an ancient profession dating back to the Iron Age. Iron was produced and smelted by the Hittites of Anatolia as early as 1500 BCE, and the tradition was carried through into the Medieval and then Industrial eras. It was in the Industrial era that the United States began to adopt blacksmithing as a significant trade, employing blacksmiths to create tools, weapons and parts.
By the mid 19th century, farriers were introduced to create horseshoes, and blacksmiths were also being used to create artillery. As time went on, the applications for iron increased and the demand for blacksmiths increased as well.
In the 1950s, blacksmiths were still being used to create tools, parts and pieces of machinery and weaponry. The materials, tools and processes became more efficient, and blacksmiths began to use less pure forms of iron to maintain cost efficiency. However, the basic principles were the same—blacksmiths use high levels of heat to forge, bend, weld and otherwise manipulate strong metals into new, desired forms.
Asbestos Use for Heat Protection in Blacksmithing
This high level of heat requires a high level of protection. Heat resistant clothing and materials are a necessary part of staying safe, and asbestos-containing materials have excellent heat-proofing qualities.
Asbestos fibers were often in direct contact with blacksmiths, before the health hazards were known, putting blacksmiths at risk of developing mesothelioma later in life.
Mesothelioma is often dormant for 10-50 years after exposure to asbestos fibers, which means blacksmiths who are developing the disease now were often exposed decades in the past. This lengthy dormancy also prevented scientists from linking asbestos to the disease until the mid-1970s, at which point adoption of alternative materials was still unfortunately slow.
Highest Risk Jobs for Blacksmiths
Any blacksmiths who worked with asbestos-containing clothing and other protective materials are at risk of developing mesothelioma. The close contact with these materials increases the likelihood of inhalation of asbestos. These include blacksmiths who work for the military, commercial or private operations.
All of the following types of blacksmiths may be exposed to asbestos:
- Heat Treater
- Forge Press Operator
- Tool Dresser
- Iron shipbuilder
Even today, many of the asbestos-containing materials that put blacksmiths at risk are still in use. Although clothing and protective gear are unlikely to contain asbestos, many of the parts and materials that blacksmiths and other tradespeople work with still contain asbestos.
The buildings that blacksmiths work in are often highly fireproofed as well using sprays, epoxies, coatings and other protective components that may contain asbestos to this day.
If you’re a blacksmith working with or around imported materials or materials a few decades old, you may be exposed to asbestos and should take precautionary measures.
blacksmiths and Asbestos Lawsuits
Blacksmiths have successfully won lawsuits for the health damages and suffering they’ve received as a result of exposure to asbestos. If you’re a blacksmith diagnosed with mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related disease, it’s critical that you get in touch with an experienced lawyer.
Asbestos law can be complex, but there are lawyers who specialize in helping victims receive fair compensation. However, the statute of limitations is often short, so it’s important you act quickly after diagnosis. Even if you don’t pursue legal action, you’ll at least be aware of all your options.
If you served your country as a military veteran, you may be eligible for benefits through the VA. Talk to one of our VA-Accredited Claims Agents today.