While the pipe systems in the buildings around us often go unnoticed, we benefit from these systems every day. Pipe systems transport water to both homes and industrial settings. They transport waste away from buildings to waste management facilities. They bring steam and air to where they are needed in factories and buildings.
Unfortunately, the pipefitters that manage these systems have often been at significant risk of exposure to dangerous asbestos fibers. What should you know about the asbestos exposure risk pipefitters have faced in our community and the options available for these workers and their loved ones?
Pipefitters in our community
Pipefitting is a career that encompasses many different tasks in various other industrial locations in our area. They may work in paper production facilities WestRock Company’s Tacoma Mill, Weyerhaeuser Longview in Longview Washington, Boise Cascade, or Longview Fibre Paper & Packaging. They may work in power plants like the Centralia Power Plant or Trojan Nuclear Facility in Oregon They may be critical workers in shipyards like the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Todd Shipyard, or Lockheed Shipyard
What unifies these different jobs is skilled work designing, installing, maintaining and repairing piping systems. During this work, pipefitters may employ many different skills, including:
- Crafting master plans for projects
- Installation and shoring skills
- Threading and grinding pipes
- Using a variety of different tools
Many of these workers in Washington and Oregon are members of The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA). Local chapters of this union include UA Local 290, United Association Local 32 and UA Association Local 26.
Why might work as a pipefitter expose someone to asbestos?
A career in pipefitting can expose workers to various hazardous materials, including carcinogenic asbestos. The fire-resistant properties of asbestos meant that many building components contained this material for decades, and the frequent use of asbestos in the 20th century included its use in insulating pipes. As a result, many of the components that pipefitters handle daily could contain asbestos, including:
Asbestos may also have been a component in related electrical systems.
Recognition of the danger of asbestos has ended the use of asbestos in many of these components. However, people who worked as pipefitters during the times of greatest asbestos use may have frequently experienced exposure during their daily work. Transporting materials that contained asbestos, cutting and installing them, repairing them and even removing these materials from a building could result in asbestos fibers being released into the air.
Pipefitters may also risk exposure today from working with older systems that still contain asbestos materials.
What impact could asbestos exposure have on a pipefitter?
If a pipefitter breathes in these fibers, that exposure can put them at risk for many conditions, including mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers. A 2017 report listed pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters among the trades with the highest mesothelioma mortality rates. The only trades with higher mortality rates were insulation workers and chemical technicians.
Even more challenging, it could take years or even decades for tradespeople and their families to see the impact of asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma, asbestosis and other asbestos-related conditions can strain a person’s health and finances. While nothing can undo the impact that asbestos exposure has on a pipefitter’s life and health, options could provide them and their family with financial support. If you or a loved one has suffered from asbestos exposure in the workplace, exploring your legal options could be an essential step toward seeking justice.