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Electricians are at risk of serious health issues from asbestos use in electrical products and construction materials. Asbestos exposure is the sole cause of mesothelioma — a deadly cancer that many electricians have developed from unsafe working conditions. In some cases, electricians were exposed to asbestos every day of their working lives.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

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Electricians and Asbestos Exposure

Electrical trades were highly susceptible to asbestos exposure during its peak use. Asbestos was considered a perfect substance to use in manufacturing electrical products.

It’s lightweight, stable and an excellent insulator for thermal transfer of heat and cold. Asbestos also has neutral conductivity, making it the ideal insulator for coating electrical wires.

Over the course of seven decades, multiple generations of electricians worked in asbestos-filled environments. Many electricians developed mesothelioma. It is only caused by inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers.

Asbestos is Now a Known Danger

Until the early 1980s, most electricians didn’t know how volatile asbestos exposure was. Today, a large number of electricians employed during the mid-20th century are at great risk of developing this deadly cancer.

How Electricians Were Exposed to Asbestos

Electricians worked with large quantities of airborne asbestos fibers at all types of job sites. This exposure occurred from the 1920s when many building products contained asbestos and were present where electricians worked.

Many electricians worked on construction, maintenance, repair, and renovation sites. Their work required them to cut through asbestos-insulated wires and walls stuffed with asbestos.

Electricians Disturbed Asbestos Fibers

Every time they handled asbestos materials, electricians sent tiny fibers airborne. Workers who inhaled these dangerous fibers could later suffer from life-threatening health problems.

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Asbestos Products Used in Electrical Work

Many electrical products were formerly made with asbestos, including:

Overall worksites also exposed electricians to all sorts of asbestos products as many other building products of the time contained asbestos.

Paints, glues, and sealants contained asbestos particles that filled the air from cutting, shaping, and installing.

Construction sites also had asbestos in:

  • Flooring and tiles
  • Roofing
  • Siding
  • Wall insulation
  • Wallboard and millboard

Wires and cables weren’t the only electrical products containing asbestos. Asbestos linings and washers insulated breaker boxes and contact terminals.

Electric ducts or raceways were filled with asbestos to prevent fires from electrical shorts. Even an electrician’s clothing and tools were made with asbestos to insulate them from electrocution.

Electrician Careers

Every American jurisdiction requires electricians to be trained and certified. Electricians go through a period of apprenticing before being licensed to work on their own.

Ticketed electricians are called journeymen. This trade-qualification has been in place since the 1800s when electrical systems began.

By the turn of the 20th century, the electrical industry was booming. Generation stations and transmission lines tied a grid across the nation. It served cities, farms, and factories. The demand for experienced electricians grew enormously.

Soon, electrical systems snaked through homes, automobiles, and the growing number of ships being built to serve the military and intercontinental trade.

Ticketed electricians generally fell into three classifications. Their training in electrical theory was similar but their practical applications involved different materials and processes.

The three electrician levels included:

  • Residential electricians: worked with light voltage and amperage. They wired homes, apartment blocks, and multi-family projects.
  • Commercial electricians: worked on medium-sized buildings. Businesses, schools, and small factories are prime examples of projects worked on by commercial electricians.
  • Industrial electricians: worked on large-sized buildings. They installed electrical wiring and control components in factories, mills, and refineries as well as in electrical generation powerhouses.

Auto assembly lines, shipyards, and aircraft factories employed hundreds of specialized electricians. But no matter what role electricians served during most of the 20th century, they were all exposed to asbestos.

Electrician Health Risks

Tiny shards of spear-like asbestos fibers filled the air where electricians worked. Day after day and year after year, electricians inhaled microscopic asbestos particles that embedded in the tissue linings of their lungs, abdomen, or heart.

Asbestos Causes Cancer

Asbestos fibers are impossible to exhale. They sit in the organ lining forever, irritating healthy cells until they mutate into cancer.

In most cases, mesothelioma symptoms do not become noticeable until the cancer has spread throughout the body. By then, the prognosis for electricians or anyone exposed to asbestos on a regular basis is poor.

Help for Mesothelioma Victims

What’s tragic about electricians who develop mesothelioma is that their exposure was preventable. Asbestos manufacturers were fully aware of the health risks of their products and failed to warn workers of the medical risks.

There are many court precedents where electricians and other tradespeople are compensated after developing mesothelioma. Awards are available for lost income, medical expenses, and punitive damages.

Families are also allowed to file claims on behalf of members with mesothelioma. This includes wrongful death lawsuits.

Our Justice Support Team can provide you with more legal and medical resources if you have mesothelioma. Get a free case review today.

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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