Plumbers and Asbestos Exposure
Between the 1920s and 1980s, asbestos was commonly used in countless building projects. All plumbers during that era worked with asbestos daily. Most plumbers took asbestos for granted and had no idea of long-term health risks presented by asbestos exposure.
Asbestos was thought to be a perfect additive to many products used by plumbers. It’s an inert material with excellent thermal transfer properties. Many hot water pipes were asbestos-wrapped, keeping temperatures uniform and constant.
Asbestos is also fire-resistant, making it safe for plumbers to cut, weld, and braze. Also, asbestos is non-corrosive, so steel pipes were protected from rust. Finally, asbestos was inexpensive, easy to work with and widely available.
Plumbers weren’t aware of the dangers of asbestos and many were exposed daily due to the nature of their work. Unfortunately, exposure to asbestos can have deadly consequences.
How Plumbers Were Exposed to Asbestos
Plumbers are exposed to asbestos when asbestos dust and fibers become airborne. During plumbing work, these fibers release into the air in two ways.
The first is by manually modifying asbestos materials that dislodge tiny fibers, which become airborne. Most asbestos plumbing materials are relatively safe and stable once installed, sealed, and left alone.
However, that didn’t happen until plumbers cut, sawed, sanded, and scraped their products to fit and finish jobs.
Manual manipulation causes asbestos fibers to become airborne, presenting a significant health hazard for plumbers.
The other equally dangerous process for creating asbestos dust is tearing apart old products where asbestos breaks down and becomes dust. No matter which process creates asbestos dust, both can put plumbers in harm’s way.
Another peril for plumbers was working in an environment where other trades cut and installed asbestos products. Asbestos was prevalent in drywall, flooring, paint, and insulation. Many plumbers were just as contaminated by other trades as they were by their own work.
Asbestos Products Used in Plumbing
Asbestos was once thought to be an advanced plumbing material and was used in many plumbing products.
Some asbestos-containing plumbing products include:
- Asbestos thermal paper
- Cement powder
- Joint compound
- Laminated asbestos felt
- Pipe insulation and blocks
- Welding rods and protective equipment
Some asbestos-based plumbing products were in new materials installed in current construction projects. Other materials were in old buildings they repaired or maintained.
Plumbers are a subset of skilled tradespeople who specialize in installing and repairing closed piping systems. The overall group includes pipefitters and steamfitters who work on larger infrastructure projects than most plumbers.
Plumbing is a respectable trade taking years to learn and become competent. All plumbers start out as apprentices and go to trade school. They get field experience with hands-on training.
After 4-6 years, apprentice plumbers receive their journeyman’s papers, or trade qualification (TQ) ticket.
Plumbers are required to handle many different tools and equipment pieces. Most plumbers work with pressure and non-pressurized water systems.
Some plumbers cross over into fire suppression systems, but regular plumbers usually don’t work on gas, steam or chemical delivery systems.
Plumbers work across the entire building construction industry, including new construction. Each spectrum has its distinct processes, materials, and equipment.
Some new construction plumber responsibilities include:
- Building pressurized hot and cold water runs
- Commercial plumbing jobs at new offices, warehouses, and hotels
- Connecting tanks and reservoirs
- Cutting, welding, and gluing materials
- Industrial plumbing sites in factories, hospitals, and schools
- Installing new drain, waste, plumbing fixtures, and vent pipes
- Residential plumbing for single and multi-family housing projects
Many plumbers were also employed as service technicians in large complexes. The renovation industry required plumbers to remove antiquated pipes and fixtures, and then install new products. Plumbers also had to make emergency repairs in homes and commercial settings.
Renovation plumbers employ in these roles:
- Fitting new pieces and piping
- Removing and replacing pipe systems
- Repair calls for fixing blockages and broken parts
Asbestos use in the plumbing industry was common for seven decades. Although asbestos was controlled and phased out by the mid-1980s, many plumbers continued being exposed to asbestos in old products. That risk remains today when plumbers encounter vintage asbestos materials.
Plumber Health Risks
Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer. Asbestos exposure is the sole cause of mesothelioma, and it happens when plumbers and other workers breathe in asbestos dust.
Asbestos particles are tiny shards that impale the lung or abdominal linings. They are impossible to remove and cause scar tissue as the body attempts to deal with the irritation.
Eventually, irritated tissues trigger the development of cancer cells, which form into mesothelioma tumors.
It often takes 20 to 50 years after exposure for mesothelioma symptoms to develop.
Sadly, since the symptoms often don’t become noticeable until the cancer has spread throughout the body, most victims don’t realize they have sick until treatment options are limited.
Help for Mesothelioma Victims
If you are one of the many plumbers who developed mesothelioma by exposure to workplace asbestos, you may be eligible for compensation.
You can receive compensation by filing a lawsuit against asbestos companies. Compensation can help pay for your medical costs, loss of income, and other expenses.
Families also can sue on behalf of members with mesothelioma as well as for wrongful death claims.
Before filing a claim, make sure to contact an experienced mesothelioma lawyer to advise you of your legal rights. Get a free case review today to learn more.