Whether you are a seasoned mechanic or a weekend DIYer, protecting yourself from the dangers associated with auto maintenance and repair is critical. Today, we’d like to discuss the topic of asbestos exposure and how it applies to those of us in the automotive industry.
First, what is asbestos? Asbestos is a heat-resistant fibrous silicate mineral that can be integrated into various fabrics and materials. It works great as an insulator, and was used extensively throughout the 20th century up until the 1970s when the health hazards of asbestos dust became widespread and it was banned in mainstream construction. Long story short, asbestos is known to cause mesothelioma, a fatal form of lung cancer. According to Asbestos.com, over 3,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.
In the automotive field, asbestos has been a component of brake pads, brake linings, clutch facings and various automotive gaskets for many years. Although modern day components are generally asbestos free, many used vehicles have asbestos containing products in them.
So how can we protect ourselves, knowing that these components likely contain asbestos? Here are some general recommendations that, if followed, should help prevent exposure to asbestos.
Whenever you are doing a brake job, you should assume that asbestos dust is present and avoid doing things like using an air hose to blow dust off of brake components. This can release innumerable asbestos fibers into the air, which you or your someone else could inhale. These fibers could also cling to your clothing and enter your home that way and endanger your family members through secondary exposure. Instead, OSHA recommends that you use a low pressure/wet cleaning method by gently spraying a cleaning solution onto the brake assembly to keep the parts wet and avoid the spreading of dust. You can place a bucket or a pan underneath the brake assembly to catch the runoff. If exposure to asbestos dust is suspected, be sure to change your clothes before entering your home. Wash your work clothes separately from other laundry to prevent transmission to other peoples’ clothes.
Always wear the proper personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses and a dust mask when handling auto parts that are known to contain asbestos. Wash your hands before eating, and keep your work space free of open containers of food or drinks that could collect asbestos containing dust.
Use low speeds on equipment to prevent kicking up dust whenever working on brake linings, or if possible, try to use machines that have a dust collection system with HEPA filtration to prevent contamination. For home mechanics, we know this may not be a feasible option, but it may be worth noting.
As with most issues involving safety, awareness is key. We hope these tips have been informative and helpful. We believe that following them will help minimize any exposure you may have during maintenance or repair procedures. If you think we’ve missed an important safety tip, we’d love to hear about it and we’ll be sure to update the blog.