Written By: Matt Mauney, Last modified: February 18, 2021
Quick Facts
  • National Employment, 2011:
    512,290
  • Similar Occupations:
    Computer, ATM and Office Machine Repairer; Construction Laborers and Helpers; Drafters; Electrical and Electronic Engineering Technicians; Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers; Line Installers and Repairers
  • Previously Exposed:
    Yes
  • Still Being Exposed:
    Yes
  • Asbestos-Related Disease Risk:
    Moderate
  • States with Highest Employment:
    Wyoming, Alaska, West Virginia, North Dakota, Colorado

Licensed electricians often collaborate with architects and sometimes engineers on the design of electrical systems in new buildings. They can also act as consultants to elevator installers and HVAC workers, to help install or maintain other power systems.

Electricians are typically exposed to asbestos primarily when repairing existing wiring during the remodeling of structures built when asbestos was widely used in building materials. Depending on the duration and repetition, this kind of exposure can lead to an asbestos-related disease like pleural mesothelioma or asbestos lung cancer.

According to a 2018 International Journal of Epidemiology study, former electricians are one of the highest-risk groups for asbestos-related diseases. Data gathered by British researchers show electricians are almost 16 times more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general population.

Electrician Products and Locations

Electricians perform maintenance and repair on older equipment, such as turbines, generators, heating units and hot water tanks, which may have asbestos in their installations. Often, asbestos is an insulator for the wiring in these items. It must first be removed before any work can be done.

The job also can involve removing felted asbestos insulation around old wiring, or inside breaker boxes. Older arc chutes containing asbestos plastic molding compound were used in circuit breakers before the mid-1980s.

Occupational Exposure for Electricians

Electricians can be exposed to asbestos in one of two ways. Just like any other construction worker, they can be exposed to fibers released into the air when existing asbestos-containing construction materials are cut or removed. However, they are doubly impacted because of their task of repairing electrical products that contain asbestos.

If an electrician drills conduits to install new wiring, they frequently find asbestos products in the walls. The drilling creates a significant exposure because it produces large amounts of dust that may not be immediately recognizable as asbestos.

Scientific Studies Involving Electricians

In a 2008 study, Italian researchers analyzed data from clinical examinations and from interviews of 119 workers who were occupationally exposed to asbestos. Electricians were included in this group.

Researchers wanted to determine if certain known mesothelioma biomarkers were present in exposed workers that could be used to predict how much risk they were at for developing the disease. A biomarker is a protein that can be measured. When it is present in the body at too high a level, it means that the disease is present. The higher the level of the biomarker, the more severe the condition is.

The researchers found that among electricians, their high rate of exposure to asbestos fibers increased the content of 80HdG in their DNA. High levels of 80HdG are a sign of the presence of soluble mesothelin-related peptides (SMRPs), a known biomarker for mesothelioma.

These electricians also had high levels of angiogenic factors. These are certain proteins that help the growth of new blood vessels. When angiogenic factors are present, it can mean that a dormant tumor is becoming malignant. Based on the combination of angiogenic factors and SMRPs, the researchers concluded that electricians should be closely monitored for mesothelioma.

Asbestos Exposure Lawsuits Involving Electricians

In 2010, Julie Gundlach filed an asbestos injury lawsuit after developing mesothelioma. She alleged she got the disease from being around her electrician father’s clothes. When he came home from work, Gundlach’s father left his asbestos-covered clothes in the laundry room where Gundlach and her sister played. This kind of secondary exposure is also known as “take-home exposure.”

Gundlach’s father, who died of lung cancer in 2005, worked all around the Madison County region in Washington. Her mother and sister showed no signs of developing an asbestos-related disease.

Manufacturers Who Made Products Used by Electricians

  • General Electric: manufactured asbestos and glass-insulated wiring and cables.
  • Union Carbide: made electrical components, such as arc chutes and phase barriers.
  • Both companies: were named defendants in lawsuits.

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