Mechanics and Asbestos Exposure

Occupational Asbestos Exposure for Automobile, Industrial, and Aircraft Mechanics

Throughout much of the 20th century, mechanics who engaged in hands-on work with brakes, clutches, and other friction components were routinely exposed to asbestos. As a result, established research has long held that mechanics are more likely to develop mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases. 

If you or someone you love developed mesothelioma or another asbestos-related health condition, past employment as a mechanic may allow you to seek compensation for your losses.

SWMW Law is nationally known for fighting on behalf of asbestos exposure victims across the country. Our team has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for mechanics, families, and workers in at-risk occupations and has prevailed in high stakes cases against powerful corporations and insurance carriers. If you have a potential case, we want to help.

SWMW Law serves mechanics and families nationwide and offers FREE consultations. To speak with an attorney about your legal options, call (855) 744-1922 or contact us online.

How Mechanics Were Exposed to Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was used widely in a variety of products and materials during most of the 20th century. Because it was durable and resistant to heat, asbestos was also widely used in the automotive, industrial, aviation industries to build parts and components that could withstand friction and reduce the risk of overheating and causing fires.

But while asbestos worked well for its intended purpose, it proved to be devastatingly hazardous to human health. Thanks to decades of research, we know that asbestos is a carcinogen, it is the only cause of mesothelioma, and any exposure – no matter how small – is unsafe.

We also know people in certain professions are more likely to be exposed to asbestos due to the nature of their work and, as a result, are more likely to be diagnosed with devastating cancers and diseases later in life. Mechanics – including both auto mechanics, industrial mechanics, aircraft mechanics – are among these at-risk occupations because they routinely handled asbestos-containing materials and engaged in work that increased their exposure risks. 

Auto Mechanics and Heavy Mechanics Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos was a favored insulant used in a broad range of applications where materials were subject to heat, fire, and corrosive substances. This includes essential vehicle components such as brakes, clutches, and gaskets. 

According to researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison), the auto industry relied heavily on asbestos from the 1940s to well into the late 20th century. Automakers and auto-parts manufacturers used chrysotile asbestos, one of the two primary types of asbestos, on their production lines and particularly in friction components such as brake pads, linings, and clutches. 

For mechanics who plied their trade during this period, “shadetree” mechanics who performed auto repair work at home, and mechanics who worked on older cars into the 21st century, asbestos-containing brakes and clutches would have been a significant source of asbestos exposure. 

Some of the work performed by auto mechanics that would have exposed them to asbestos include:

  • Installation of asbestos-containing brakes and clutches
  • Sanding or grinding brake pads or clutch components
  • Servicing or repairing brakes and other vehicle components
  • Performing blowouts of brakes and brake pads
  • Operating brake lathes to grind brake shoes
  • Weaving or manufacturing brake linings 
  • Cleaning, brushing, or vacuuming asbestos dust
  • Relining brake shoes 

Automobile and heavy equipment mechanics were often exposed to asbestos while installing asbestos-containing brakes and clutches, which often required mechanics to sand and grind brakes to ensure a proper fit. This created airborne asbestos-containing dust that could then be inhaled or ingested. 

Exposure also occurred during repairs that required mechanics to remove or replace brakes filled with dust, which accumulates naturally in wheel wells and is removed by blowing it out. 

As researchers have noted, vehicles with asbestos-containing brakes produce dust that contains two major components – forsterite (a non-fibrous magnesium silicate that is created by the heat and pressure brakes apply to chrysotile asbestos and on its own isn’t toxic); and a great deal of chrysotile asbestos that is not converted to forsterite by the braking process. In fact, UW-Madison researchers found that a single nanogram of brake dust contained 90,000 unaltered chrysotile asbestos fibers, and that measurable quantities of asbestos could be found as far as 75 feet from where a blowout was performed.  

Because mechanics and other auto workers were routinely exposed to asbestos dust in brakes, clutches, and other vehicle components, they also placed their spouses and families at risk of secondary exposure, which occurs when workers in high-risk occupations bring asbestos fibers from their jobs into their homes on their clothes, skin, and hair. As part of UW-Madison’s research, researchers identified several cases involving women married to auto workers who developed mesothelioma through secondary exposure. 

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Industrial Mechanics and Aircraft Mechanics Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos-containing braking components were commonly used in industrial equipment, such as large presses and stamping machines, hydraulic machinery, forklifts, and other mechanical equipment that relied upon friction materials for its safe and effective operation.

Asbestos was used widely in airplanes and aircraft components for the same reasons it was used heavily by the auto industry – it was affordable, durable, and could withstand heat and pressure. 

As a result, aircraft mechanics and maintenance technicians who worked on military, commercial, or private aircraft from the 1930s through the late 20th century were routinely exposed to asbestos. This exposure occurred in several ways, including the direct handling of asbestos-containing materials, exposure to asbestos dust in brake pads, and exposure to asbestos found on worksites.

Work performed on aircraft brake systems was a significant hazard for aircraft mechanics. As with brakes in automobiles, brake assemblies on aircraft also contained asbestos and produced harmful asbestos dust. Aircraft mechanics were also exposed to asbestos in gaskets and packing when working on large engines, as well as various insulation materials and aviation parts.  

In addition to working with asbestos-containing parts, industrial mechanics and aircraft mechanics were also exposed to asbestos through their work environments. Many mechanics spent long hours in hangars, airports, and other facilities filled with asbestos-laden materials and other trades workers who also handled asbestos parts and produced asbestos dust. Aircraft mechanics who worked for the military or military contractors were also exposed to asbestos in shipyards and Navy ships

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Sources of Asbestos Exposure for Auto Mechanics

Asbestos was widely used in brakes, clutches, and auto parts for most of the 20th century, placing thousands of mechanics at risk of exposure during everyday duties. And while the U.S. government began to regulate the use of asbestos in cars beginning in the 1980s, mechanics servicing older vehicles continued to be exposed to asbestos well into the 21st century. 

Examples of asbestos-containing products used and handled by automobile, industrial, and heavy equipment mechanics include:

  • Brake pads and linings
  • Clutch facings
  • Gaskets
  • Heat seals
  • Hood liners
  • Auto Body Filler 
  • Grinders and Grinding Wheels

Sources of Asbestos Exposure for Aircraft Mechanics

Just as it was in the auto industry, asbestos was widely used in the aviation industry. Asbestos was found in all types of military, commercial, and private airplanes and helicopters manufactured into the 1990s and in countless older aircraft. 

Aircraft mechanics worked with a variety of components and products containing asbestos, including:

  • Brake assemblies
  • Heat-resistant cloth and blankets
  • Engine heat shields
  • Engine mounts
  • Engine shrouds
  • Fabrics
  • Gaskets
  • Gloves
  • Insulation materials
  • Molded brake blocks
  • Repairing equipment

Studies Find Increased Mesothelioma Risk Among Mechanics

The CDC recognizes that mechanics, especially those who worked in the 20th century, face risk of developing health problems due to their occupational asbestos exposure. These risks have been identified in several studies conducted over the years. Some examples include:

  • A 2018 study from UW-Madison that analyzed the use of asbestos-containing auto parts in the automotive industry found high concentrations of asbestos in brake dust. Researchers also found when mechanics performed blowouts, asbestos dust could disperse as far as 75 feet from its original location. 
  • A 2021 study conducted by World Trade Organization expert Dr. Douglas Henderson found vehicle mechanics who performed brake work had a 10-fold increased risk of developing mesothelioma compared to the general population. 
  • A 1999 study that evaluated mesothelioma cancer in Sweden between 1961 to 1979 found a standardized incidence ratio (SIR) of 2.4 cases of mesothelioma for mechanics, which was nearly twice the incidence for the general public. 

Compensation for Mechanics Exposed to Asbestos

Mechanics exposed to asbestos face greater risks of developing mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related health conditions. These diseases are life-altering and can devastate families emotionally and financially. 

Fortunately, there are legal options in place for victims and families to secure financial recovery for their losses. These include:

  • Asbestos trust fund claims. Mechanics and families may be able to seek compensation through special funds created when companies that knowingly manufactured and distributed asbestos-containing products filed for bankruptcy.
  • Personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits. Mechanics and eligible family members may have grounds to file civil claims against solvent companies that negligently produced, distributed, or used asbestos and endangered workers. 

For decades, asbestos companies continued to endanger the lives of countless workers by producing asbestos-containing products and withholding crucial information about their health risks. The result has been decades’ worth of diagnoses and deaths caused by occupational asbestos exposure.

At SWMW, we help victims and families fight back for the justice they deserve. In addition to ensuring accountability by representing our clients in civil personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits and filing asbestos trust fund claims, the work we do is designed to maximize our clients’ compensation.

Depending on the facts of your case, you may be entitled to compensation for:

  • Past medical bills
  • Future medical expenses
  • Lost wages or lost financial support
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of consortium and emotional injuries
  • Other economic and non-economic losses

Learn more about your rights and legal options.

Examples of Our Results

SWMW Law has recovered over $750 million in compensation for clients, including millions in verdicts and settlements in asbestos cases. Our team has extensive experience handling high stakes cases involving auto mechanics, aircraft mechanics, and other workers diagnosed with mesothelioma and various cancers due to their asbestos exposure. Some examples of our results include:

  • $4.5 million settlement for a Louisiana shadetree mechanic and construction laborer diagnosed with mesothelioma.
  • $3.4 million settlement for a Missouri heavy equipment mechanic and maintenance worker diagnosed with mesothelioma.
  • $2.2 million settlement for an Illinois automotive mechanic.

Call For a FREE Consultation: (855) 744-1922

At SWMW Law, our trial lawyers have dedicated their careers to helping victims and families in the fight against corporations that care more about profits than people. Backed by a century of collective experience, we have helped clients take on powerful defendants in courts across the country and have helped countless victims and families secure the justice and compensation they deserved. 

If you have questions about an asbestos claim involving work as an auto mechanic or aircraft mechanic, call (855) 744-1922 or contact us online for a FREE consultation.

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