Most people don’t associate auto repair work with asbestos exposure. However, those who repair cars—particularly older and vintage or classic cars—face a serious risk of coming into contact with asbestos. Asbestos used to be a regular component of brake pads, linings, and shoes as well as gaskets and clutches. Its resistance to heat and ability to act as a binder (its fibrosity) was a big factor in its use across a range of all sorts of products, including brakes. While vehicles manufactured today shouldn’t have parts that contain asbestos, older-model cars with aftermarket parts or those obtained from salvage yards may. Classic and vintage vehicles that haven’t been fully refurbished may still have parts containing asbestos. Moreover, some manufacturers did not even remove asbestos from their brake products until the early 2000s. People even today may still be exposed to asbestos fibers during the removal of those older parts—involving activities such as tapping, hammering, blowing out, wiping down, and spray cleaning asbestos-containing brakes, clutches, or gaskets. As the asbestos-containing brakes are used in your car, they are ground and worn down, which creates particles of asbestos dust. Those static dust fibers are disturbed during the disassembly process, often creating dust that gets breathed in. And beyond inhaling those dust fibers, having them on your clothing and footwear also presents a hazard—especially if special care isn’t taken with that clothing and it’s worn home. The asbestos fibers become re-entrained in the air if those clothes are later shaken out or otherwise handled before washing. Unfortunately, there’s really no way of knowing whether an older vehicle part contains asbestos. It is not apparent whether anything has asbestos in it unless it gets tested by certified asbestos workers. Accordingly, if dealing with older car brakes, clutches, or gaskets, you should wear personal protective equipment and wet down materials to avoid breathing that dust.
Federal regulations for car repair businesses
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has regulations for any commercial automotive repair business that does more than five brake or clutch jobs each week. These include using a special enclosure and vacuum system as well as low-pressure spray equipment. Those businesses that perform fewer such jobs are required to use the “wet wipe method” for brake and clutch parts. Of course, other personal protective equipment (PPE) should also be worn. This includes disposable clothing and masks or respirators. Shops that specialize in repairing and refurbishing vintage automobiles should have strict safety protocols in place. If you or a loved one has developed mesothelioma or other asbestos-related condition after working in this industry, it’s a good idea to find out what kind of options you have for securing the compensation you need and deserve to help secure the best possible treatment and quality of life.