Thousands of retired and current employees in Ohio’s auto industry are at risk of serious health issues as a result of auto industry asbestos exposure. For many years, health professionals have been warning consumers and workers about the dangers of asbestos exposure, though many workplaces throughout the U.S. are still rife with the toxic material. A study published nearly 40 years ago by the Journal of Occupational Medicine concluded that automobile makers have an increased risk of cancer.
Yet, with all the knowledge that workers were facing serious health hazards, corporations carried on manufacturing dangerous products, and failed to warn employees of the risks. Unfortunately, the dangers of exposure are not limited to Ohio’s auto factory workers. Even today, auto mechanics at neighborhood repair shops may also face the same significant health concerns.
Auto Mechanics at Risk of Exposure
Public health specialists say each year thousands of auto-repair workers are diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases. A warning published by the Automotive Safety Association found that approximately 1 in 10 mechanics at auto repair shops could be at risk for developing an asbestos-related cancer.
Since repair shops also are often short on air circulation, the combination enclosed work spaces and free-floating asbestos fibers makes the occupation particularly dangerous.
Reports from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) advise mechanics to “assume that all brakes have asbestos-type shoes.” They go on to say it is impossible to know if brake or clutch components contain asbestos by visual inspection. The danger to mechanics will continue for decades as asbestos-filled brakes on warehouse shelves continue to be installed on vehicles.
Auto Repair Shops: Auto Industry Exposure
One of the most common ways mechanics can be exposed to asbestos is during common brake repairs. Asbestos dust often sits inside a brake housing or clutch space, and when the material is disturbed in the shop, the dust can be inhaled.
Auto parts such as brakes and clutches are manufactured with asbestos because of its exceptional heat-resistant qualities. However, when these parts begin to age and inevitably break down though friction, asbestos dust can easily fill the controlled workspaces of auto shops.
This poses a threat because asbestos fibers, when inhaled, can lodge in the tissue surrounding the lungs and leave permanent scarring. The embedded fibers can later cause asbestosis and increase the risk of various cancers, most notably lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Asbestos dust and fibers can spread fast up to 50-75 feet from the work being performed. The fibers can be airborne and immediately ingested, or they can be stuck to workers’ hands and clothes. In this manner, auto industry asbestos can easily be carried home, exposing entire families to the hazardous material. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warns that the following tasks can help release asbestos into the air and consequently lead to employee exposure:
• Using a shop vacuum cleaner to clean dust
• Using compressed air to clean brake assemblies
• Grinding of brake linings
• Beveling of brake linings.
• Wiping parts with a dry rag
• Brushing dust from an assembly
• Using water hoses or spraying tools to clean parts
Auto Parts Containing Asbestos
The use of asbestos for brake linings was never abandoned completely. As late as the 1990’s Ford still used asbestos to silence a brake noise problem in one popular model. Asbestos linings are also still in use in imports models.
Some auto parts contain more asbestos material than others. For example, the concentration of asbestos in auto components like brakes was estimated at 30 to 80 percent. Other parts that can pose a threat include the following:
• Automatic Transmission
• Brake Linings
• Brake Shoes for Locomotive
• Clutch Linings
• Disc Brakes
• Drum Brakes
• Engine housing
• Manual Transmission
• Heat Seals
• Valve Rings
Ohio Auto Factory Hazards
Regardless of their position, most factory workers in the auto industry faced an occupational exposure. Production sites were built with asbestos bricks, drywall, and heating and water pipes.
In addition, some employees were at higher risk. Workers who directly handled and installed brake linings were heavily exposed. That includes any person packing and unpacking, installing, sanding, buffing, polishing, grinding and drilling parts for installation. Some of the following positions and tasks are also considered high-risk:
• Lathe and drill press operators
• Grinding operators—any workers polishing product surfaces
• Assembly line workers—belts and belt drives were often reinforced with asbestos fibers
• Machine maintenance crews
• Warehouse part pickers
Auto Plant Locations in Ohio
Factory workers may have been exposed to auto industry asbestos products at several Ohio manufacturers. Some of the notable include:
• Batavia Transmission
• Cleveland Engine
• Delphi Chassis Systems
• Goodyear Tire
• Chevrolet Motor Plant
• General Motors
• Ford Motor
• Chrysler Corp.
• Defiance Foundry
• Delco Moraine NDH (Sandusky, Ohio)
• Delco Moraine NDH (Dayton, Ohio)
• Delco Products (Kettering, Ohio)
• Inland Fisher Guide Plant (Euclid, Ohio)
• Inland Fisher Guide Plant (Vandalia, Ohio)
• Lima Engine
• Lordstown Assembly
• Lorain Assembly
• Parma Metal Center
• Toledo Transmission
• Mansfield Metal Center
• Marysville Auto Plant
• Moraine Assembly
• Norwood Assembly
• Sharonville Transmission
• Stickney Plant
• Toledo Assembly Plant
• Toledo Transmission
• Winters Foundry
General Motors Ohio Plants
General Motors, who has been targeted in many recent major injury lawsuits, produced asbestos-containing brake linings and clutch facings for many years. The company also knowingly purchased parts containing asbestos from third-party companies, further exposing consumers and employees to the dangerous products.
In addition to auto mechanics and GM warehouse employees, brake and clutch assemblers and boiler workers were among the occupations that were among the most endangered by asbestos.
Exposure is not limited to the following, though some occupations faced direct exposure while working at General Motors plants, including:
• Appliance repairers and installers
• Auto mechanics
• Brake and Clutch assemblers
• Boiler workers
• Factory workers
• Warehouse workers
Lawsuits Filed Against GM
Because the company chose to put workers at risk, General Motors was liable for an estimated $636 million in asbestos claims by 2009.
• One auto mechanic, who worked at GM for 36 years, alleged that asbestos from brake linings and clutch facings caused him to develop mesothelioma. The victim claimed he was exposed while grinding and repairing brakes and clutches. In this case, the jury found GM guilty and awarded the man $2 million.
• In another case, a warehouse worker who fell ill claimed he was exposed to asbestos while working at a GM distribution warehouse. After he died of mesothelioma, a New Jersey jury awarded his family more than $30 million in damages.
Symptoms of Asbestos-Related Illness
Asbestos-related cancers have a long latency period, and many workers may not be diagnosed for up to 50 years after auto industry exposure. Signs and symptoms of lung diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma may include:
• Chest Pain
• Trouble swallowing
• Swelling of the abdomen
Auto Industry Asbestos Settlements
Employees of Ohio’s auto industry, and mechanics who have been exposed to an unsafe work environment may have been put at risk by their employers and various manufacturers of dangerous products. If former or current workers in Ohio’s auto industry have fallen ill, or have been diagnosed with lung conditions, it may be a result of auto industry asbestos exposure. Affected employees may have a claim against one or more employer or product manufacturer, and may consider seeking immediate medical and legal assistance.
Joe Lyon is a highly-rated Cincinnati asbestos lawyer and Ohio mesothelioma attorney who has successfully represented plaintiffs throughout the United States. If you have questions about asbestos litigation, contact The Lyon Firm for a no-obligation and confidential consultation regarding auto industry asbestos injury at 800.513.2403.