Brake Drums and Asbestos Dust

A more recent study published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental health showed that automobile mechanics and the car service technicians are at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma, which is a serious cancer that is caused by high exposure of asbestos dust. Malignant mesothelioma cancer develops in chest cavity lining.

To observe the symptoms of mesothelioma and the asbestos related disease, a person may take around 20 years. Therefore, the symptoms may appear when they are already in their 50s. A person who worked as a car service technician in the 1960s may have recently started experiencing the symptoms or even diagnosed with mesothelioma.

brake pads mechanic asbestos poisoning 01
The symptoms of this serious cancer may mirror other types of lung related diseases. They can be different depending on the cancer type. The earlier signs are slight and someone may mistake them to be normal pains and aches. This makes it hard to detect this form of cancer.

Drum brakes containing asbestos

Drum brake is the oldest type of automotive brake and dates back to around 1900. And unlike the highly used disc brakes that involves a metal plate clutched between a pair of calipers just like bicycle’s brakes, the drum brakes are circular and have linings on their inner surface. After the driver applies the brake, the system forces a hydraulic fluid through a cylinder. This causes the brake shoes to expand against the drum’s inner lining.

Until 1980s, asbestos was the primary ingredient in the drum brakes lining before the brake manufacturers started switching to other safer materials. Since telling whether the brake lining contains asbestos by just looking at it is hard, people working in an automotive repair facility particularly brake workers are usually at risk of inhaling asbestos from the brake products containing it. The shade free mechanics and the people doing the repair work on their own should also be aware of the risks associated with asbestos dust from the drum brakes lining.

The hazards of asbestos dust

As the asbestos brakes wear down through the normal automotive use, they start releasing out asbestos containing dust to the outside environments. Much of the dust is also trapped within the brake housing and later released after the replacement or the repair work is done. Vacuuming the brake residue with a home or a regular shop vacuum will increase the risk of asbestos dust spread. Cleaning the brake drum with a compressed air hose may release hundreds of thousands of asbestos fibers in the air surrounding a mechanics face. Furthermore, using a hammer to hit the brake drum can also release asbestos dust.

In addition to being at a higher risk of inhaling asbestos dust, mechanics can get this dust on their hands during the repair work and swallow some small particles when eating. Moreover, when the dust is released into the air, it will linger within the repair shop and customers and mechanics may also breathe it. The mechanics may also carry some of the asbestos dust home with their clothes therefore putting their families at a threat.

Reducing the risks associated with asbestos dust from drum brakes

According to the USA government regulations, any auto repair shop that does at least five brakes jobs in a year should use special equipments to minimize asbestos exposure. One method of preventing asbestos spread involves a transparent enclosure around the vehicle’s brake system and proper cleaning with a vacuum.

best respirator for mechanic asbestos brake ds

The vacuum should have High Efficiency Particulate Air or HEPA filter. Another procedure involves use of lower pressure spray equipment to wet down the brake system and then the mechanic collects the runoff in a basin. Vehicle mechanics should also remember to dispose off asbestos brakes in sealed and labeled impermeable containers.

The home auto mechanics particularly those who work with asbestos brakes are also at a greater risk of inhaling asbestos dust. The fact that they don’t have equipments found in the auto repair shops may intensify the problem. Therefore, this mechanics should avoid using compressed air when cleaning brakes to prevent asbestos release into the air. The mechanics should also use pre-ground ready to install parts when possible.

While most vehicle brake systems in the newer vehicle models do not contain asbestos, there are some brake pads and shoes that contain asbestos. This is according to US Environmental Protection Agency. A mechanic cannot know whether brakes contain asbestos by just looking at them. And if the brake contains Asbestos then the dust will also contain asbestos. As a mechanic, you should always assume that all brakes have asbestos type shoes and use asbestos dust control procedures.