How can you tell if your automobile’s brakes contain asbestos?
When in doubt, assume that they do.
Although asbestos regulation began in earnest in the late 1970s, asbestos has never been entirely banned in the United States. The automobile industry continues to make use of asbestos in some brake and clutch assemblies. While most modern vehicles do not contain asbestos, as recently as the summer of 2012 a major Chinese car manufacturer was forced to recall its new cars from the Australian market, where asbestos is strictly forbidden. In 2004, the International Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health published a scathing criticism of brake manufacturers’ attempts to corrupt medical literature and escape liability for asbestos exposure.
Asbestos is most dangerous when it is friable, meaning that it crumbles easily, creating inhalable fibers which can eventually lead to fatal forms of lung cancer. In general, the Consumer Products Safety Commission advises that products containing asbestos remain undisturbed, unless damaged. Obviously, this advice cannot be entirely followed in the automobile repair industry. Brakes must be inspected, maintained, and replaced on a regular basis to ensure their safety. Because brake pads degrade over time and produce dust, exposure to dangerous inhalable fibers is possible if proper precautions are not taken.
What Can I do to Prevent Asbestos Exposure While Working on my Car?
The best way to prevent possible asbestos exposure during car maintenance is to take your car to a professional auto mechanic. If you must work on your vehicle at home, the Environmental Protection Agency has published a list of best practices for preventing asbestos exposure among brake and clutch repair workers, including a list of dos and don’ts for home mechanics:
Work Practice Don’ts for Home Mechanics
It is recommended that you:
- Do not use compressed air for cleaning. Compressed air blows dust into the air.
- Do not clean brakes or clutches with a dry rag, brush (wet or dry), or garden hose.
- Do not use an ordinary wet/dry vac without a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to vacuum dust. Invisible particles of brake or clutch dust can stay in the air and on your clothes long after a job is complete.
- Avoid taking work clothing inside the home or tracking dust through the house after performing brake and clutch work to prevent exposing your family to dust particles that may contain asbestos.
Work Practice Do’s for Home Mechanics:
It is recommended that you:
- Use pre-ground, ready-to-install parts.
- If a brake or clutch lining must be drilled, grooved, cut, beveled, or lathe-turned, use low speeds to keep down the amount of dust created.
- Use machinery with a local exhaust dust collection system equipped with HEPA filtration to prevent dust exposures and work area contamination.
- Change into clean clothes before going inside the home and wash soiled clothes separately.
- Minimize exposure to others by keeping bystanders, as well as food and drinks, away from the work area.
For more information on how to reduce your risk of asbestos exposure during auto repair work, see the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s bulletin on asbestos and brake repair work, and the Administration’s regulations for automobile mechanics.
What Can I do If I Have Been Exposed to Asbestos?
Some of the dangers of asbestos exposure were understood as early as the 1930s, yet employers and manufacturers continued to take few safety precautions, placing untold numbers of workers at risk. While today employers are required to follow specific regulations dictating that brake and clutch assemblies be enclosed and handled with impermeable sleeves, these regulations were not enacted until 1994. If you have been exposed to asbestos from working with automotive parts and suffer from an asbestos-related illness, you may be eligible for compensation. Call Bergman Draper Ladenburg Hart today, for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation.