While the U.S. enacted a number of protective guidelines that regulate the use of asbestos, many other countries still rely heavily on the mineral.
Global industries, including the auto repair industry, are still dependent on asbestos. Until further asbestos bans are enacted, occupational exposure still remains a significant threat for countless workers.
One study, published in Industrial Health in 2011, found the levels of asbestos in the air at Iranian car and truck repair shops were nearly 7 times higher than guidelines deem safe. The study found that amphibole asbestos was prevalent in brake dust, while trace amounts of tremolite and actinolite fibers also contributed to elevated asbestos levels in the air. The strong presence of asbestos at these jobsites in turn increased the workers’ risk for developing malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses.
A total of 60 air samples were taken at 30 different repair facilities. Optical microscopy analysis found that the mean concentration of asbestos in the air at car repair shops was 0.92 fibers per milliliter (f/ml.)
In passenger heavy truck shops, the mean concentration was 0.46 f/ml. In 1994, the Occupational Safety and Health Agency declared 0.1 f/ml to be the maximum permissible concentration of asbestos in a breathing zone.
Brake Linings Notorious for Asbestos Exposure
Brake linings have consistently contained up to 65 percent chrysotile asbestos. In this study, approximately 70 percent of all airborne fibers in the auto shops were chrysotile asbestos, while tremolite and actinolite fibers each accounted for an additional 10 percent.
Mechanics responsible for removing and replacing these linings or brake pads were commonly exposed to the fibers that were released by repairs. The replacement process required old asbestos-containing brake dust to be brushed away before new brakes were installed.
Grinding new linings during the process also released a substantial amount of asbestos into the air, where it was easily inhaled.
The study noted that the mean employment period of participants was 11.5 years. Prolonged exposure has been shown to increase a person’s risk for developing asbestos-related diseases.
These factors indicate that the mechanics are at an elevated risk for asbestos-related diseases, yet numerous other workers worldwide also face potential health complications from similar exposure.