How Were Asbestos Gaskets Used?
Asbestos-based gaskets were used to create a tight seal between pipes or pieces of machinery in engines and heavy industry. Manufacturers used these gaskets until public awareness of asbestos-related diseases motivated them to find substitutes for the toxic mineral.
While most modern gasket manufacturers now use heat-resistant substitutes for asbestos, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that imports of chrysotile asbestos are still legally used to make sheet gaskets and other types of gaskets. Most manufacturers of asbestos gaskets operate internationally, and it remains legal to import asbestos gaskets. Thankfully, many American gasket distributers choose to sell asbestos-free gaskets to protect their workers and customers.
Workers remain at risk of encountering asbestos gaskets when taking apart old engines or industrial machinery. Do-it-yourself auto mechanics are also at risk of exposure to old asbestos gaskets. Parts sealed with asbestos gaskets include pipes, pumps, compressors, valves, boilers, engine cylinder heads, heat exchangers and condensers.
Types of Asbestos Gaskets
Common types of asbestos gaskets include:
Asbestos Rope Gaskets: Soft rope woven from white asbestos fibers could be made into a fireproof gasket of almost any size and shape, offering a flexible solution for sealing the doors of boilers, furnaces and ovens. The loose binding of the mineral fibers makes the associated exposure risk particularly severe.
Asbestos Oval Gaskets: This type of gasket combines soft asbestos material with a wire insert that gives it shape and extra strength.
Asbestos Spiral Wound Gaskets: This sophisticated type of gasket is made from concentric layers of metal and asbestos. The product’s design is extremely strong, but it still leaves nearly pure asbestos fibers exposed to the open air.
Asbestos Sheet Gaskets or Sheet Packing: To mass produce asbestos gaskets for standardized parts, manufacturers pressed asbestos and other fibers into a firm, cardboard-like sheet from which they could punch out gaskets of all shapes. Many installation workers also manually cut sheet packing to size for individual parts.
Companies Connected to Asbestos Gaskets
Some brands of asbestos sheet packing and gaskets include:
|Anchor Packing Company||Target Gasket Sheet, Tauril Sheet Packing|
|Chemical & Power Products Inc.||Chempro Gaskets|
|Crane Co.||Cranite Sheet Packing|
|Durabla Manufacturing Company||Durabla Black Gasket|
|Goetze Gasket and Packing Company Inc.||Goetzerit Sheet Packing|
|Greene, Tweet & Company||Palmetto Folded Asbestos Packings and Gaskets|
|Melrath Supply and Gasket Company||Melbesto Superheat Gaskets|
Other companies that manufactured asbestos gaskets include:
- Flexitallic Gasket Company
- Garlock Packing and Garlock Sealing Technologies
- Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company Inc.
- John Crane Inc.
- Johns Manville
- McCord Manufacturing Company Inc.
Diseases Asbestos Gaskets Can Cause
When asbestos products such as gaskets are cut, damaged or disturbed, they release microscopic fibers into the air that can lodge themselves into the lungs and cause diseases including mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Sheet gasket material commonly contained up to 70% to 80% chrysotile asbestos. Gaskets designed for acidic environments often contained a more dangerous form of asbestos called crocidolite, which is also known as blue asbestos. The fiber filler in spiral wound gaskets was often almost completely pure asbestos.
Exposure to asbestos gaskets is known to cause the following diseases:
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
Benign pleural diseases,
including pleuritis and pleural plaques
Workers who manufactured or installed asbestos gaskets bear the highest risk of developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma or asbestosis. Any time asbestos sheet packing was cut into a gasket on site, or an old gasket was scraped off a part during machine or vehicle maintenance, this activity put every worker in the area in danger of asbestos exposure.
Occupations at risk include:
Outside the workplace, asbestos exposure from gaskets may occur when car owners perform maintenance on older cars or cars with imported aftermarket parts.
It is important to see a pulmonologist for annual asbestos disease screenings if you were exposed to asbestos gaskets. Catching asbestos-related diseases early and seeking treatment from a specialist leads to the best chances of long-term survival.
Compensation for Exposure to Asbestos Gaskets
Many people who developed illnesses after working with asbestos gaskets have received compensation after filing lawsuits against manufacturers.
Manufacturers of asbestos gaskets have been held liable in the U.S. court system for the diseases their products cause because evidence has shown they were aware of the dangers of asbestos and chose to use it regardless of the health consequences.
- In October 2019, a Georgia appeals court would not excuse asbestos gasket manufacturer John Crane Inc. from a mesothelioma lawsuit. John Davis filed a personal injury lawsuit before his death from mesothelioma in 2015, claiming the company’s gaskets caused his cancer. After his death, his widow took over the claim as a wrongful death lawsuit. A new trial date has not been published.
- U.S. Navy veteran William Voelker filed a lawsuit in 2015 against John Crane, claiming exposure to the company’s gaskets caused him to develop mesothelioma. A jury ordered John Crane to pay Voelker $1.4 million.
- Retired Master Chief Gerald Gray filed a lawsuit in 2008 against John Crane after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Gray was exposed to asbestos during his 20 years of installing and removing John Crane’s asbestos sheet packing products aboard U.S. Navy ships. Unfortunately, Gray died three weeks before his trial. The jury awarded Grey’s family almost $4 million in compensation to cover $466,000 in medical bills as well as Grey’s pain and suffering and his wife’s loss of consortium.
An experienced mesothelioma attorney can review your case and let you know what types of legal claims you may qualify to file. You may be eligible to file a lawsuit and multiple asbestos trust fund claims.
Other options for compensation include VA claims, travel and treatment grants, workers’ compensation and Social Security Disability.
Abatement and History of Asbestos Gaskets
Abatement of asbestos gaskets should only be performed by licensed professionals because these products are friable, meaning easily crumbled with light pressure, and likely to release significant amounts of asbestos upon removal.
When removing old asbestos gaskets and sheet packing from pipes and machinery, abatement workers dampen the material before scraping it off to reduce the amount of asbestos dust that becomes airborne. They then dispose of the waste in an airtight, labeled container or polythene sack carefully sealed with tape. Each state and county sets guidelines on how to properly dispose of asbestos and steep fines exist for violating these regulations.
Abatement workers always wear personal protective equipment, including a high-efficiency particulate air filter mask, when handling any asbestos-containing material. They also build a negative-pressure environment to prevent exposing others to asbestos fibers.
As public awareness of asbestos-related diseases broadened in the 1970s and 1980s, American manufacturers gradually phased out the use of asbestos in gasket products.
Gaskets cut from asbestos sheet packing were used in a variety of factories, refineries and power plants. Engineers considered asbestos mixed with fiber fillers the ideal material for sealing any mechanical system that involved the transport of hot gases, oil, steam, acids or other chemicals.
Asbestos gaskets also became a staple of shipbuilding, with U.S. Navy use beginning in the 1920s and rising significantly during World War II and into the Cold War. Because many gaskets are designed to be installed permanently, some older ships still contain these materials.
Engineers originally developed high-pressure gaskets and sheet packing to seal parts in steam engine boilers and locomotives. As the automobile and oil-refining industries grew up in tandem, the applications for asbestos gaskets multiplied. In 1939, John Crane Inc. developed a seal for car engines that helped the company become the global industry leader in mechanical seals for decades.
Asbestos gaskets were first invented in 1899 by an Austrian engineer named Richard Klinger. By 1912, the Flexitallic Gasket Company was selling the first spiral wound gasket.