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The boilermaker profession includes anyone involved in making or maintaining high-pressure, steam-generating equipment like boilers, pipefitters, and high-pressure welders. Everyone employed in the boilermaker industry when asbestos was used falls into a high-risk group for developing asbestos exposure health problems.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

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Boilermakers and Asbestos Exposure

No profession was more exposed to asbestos than boilermakers. Their entire workspace was an asbestos den.

Everything in their complete surroundings used asbestos for heat control. Even boilermakers’ tools and clothing contained asbestos. Back then, asbestos was supposed to be their personal protective equipment.

It’s fair to say that when asbestos is properly installed and completely contained, it’s somewhat stable and harmless. However, that wasn’t the case in early boiler rooms or on old boiler manufacturing assembly lines.

How Boilermakers Were Exposed to Asbestos

  • When asbestos is disturbed by installation, maintenance, or removal, it becomes friable or easily crumbling.
  • As the parent product is disturbed, asbestos particles become airborne.
  • Boilermakers who came in contact with asbestos products could then inhale the microscopic and invisible asbestos particles.

Asbestos-treated parts were continually moving. Workers were constantly exposed to airborne asbestos particles no matter what they were doing.

Asbestos Products Used in Boilermaking

All steam-generating equipment uses a boiler — or hot water tank — as their central energy-generation component.

Steam power became mainstream in the mid-1800s. It was used to propel ships, train locomotives, electrical generators, and all forms of central heating systems.

Fuel sources varied from wood, coal, oil, and gas, but one thing was common — all boilers produced huge heat volumes that needed insulating and fireproofing.

Asbestos was considered the perfect fire resistance and insulation material. Asbestos does not burn nor transfer heat. From the 1920s to the 1980s, asbestos was the main fire and heat protection material used in boilermaking.

These boiler applications used materials containing asbestos:

  • Liners on boiler tank interiors
  • Outer wraps on boiler tanks
  • Floor, ceiling, and wall protection in boiler rooms
  • Gaskets in joints, seams, and access openings
  • Insulative pipe wraps on delivery systems
  • Adhesives in pipe connections
  • Additives to bearings and rollers
  • Cement for base pads, supports, and acoustic control
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Boilermaker Careers

Boilermaking is a career requiring years of experience to develop proficiency. Boilermakers work in two distinct groups, and each has its specialties and occupational hazards.

The two types of boilermakers are:

1. Boiler Producers

Boiler producers are employed in factories that manufacture boiler tanks and assemblies.

For years, asbestos products were the primary insulators used in boiler manufacturing. Everyone in the boiler assembly area handled asbestos material.

They were constantly exposed to an environment containing airborne asbestos particles.

2. Boiler Operators

Boiler operators work in specific facilities using boilers for steam generation.

Steam generation can be for energy to drive propulsion equipment, generate electricity, and heat buildings or vessels.

Installation, operation, and maintenance boilermakers spent their entire careers working on boilers and steam-transferring equipment lined and wrapped with asbestos products.

Often, their workplace was enclosed and poorly ventilated. It was the perfect environment for harboring dangerous asbestos fibers.

Shipboard Boilermakers

Even though boilermakers, in general, were among the highest risk groups for asbestos exposure, shipboard boilermakers were at the head of their class.

Ships have used steam boilers for several hundred years. Central to every ship was its boiler room that was tight and poorly ventilated.

Trained boilermakers and tenders spent their entire day in that dangerous place. For decades, ship boiler and engine rooms were full of asbestos.

Boilermaker Health Risks

Any person employed in the boilermaking profession before asbestos was banned is at high-risk for health problems.

Asbestos and Mesothelioma Risk

Prolonged exposure to airborne asbestos fibers is the sole cause of asbestos exposure leading to mesothelioma, which is a deadly form of cancer.

If you’re in this high-risk group, you are in serious danger of respiratory illness. Even if you’re not, you may know someone who is.

Help for Mesothelioma Victims

If you have mesothelioma or any illness related to asbestos exposure, you may be eligible for financial compensation. That applies to any worker, including boilermakers.

Monetary settlements are available to cover medical expenses and disability costs. Lawsuits may result in payments for personal injury as well as to relatives for wrongful death claims.

We want to help — contact us now.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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