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Do home mechanics need to worry about asbestos?

Performing auto maintenance and repairs at home can save you money, if you have the skills to complete your tasks properly. However, there can also be risks that home mechanics may not consider.

One commonly overlooked risk is the possibility of becoming exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that is known for its insulative and fire-resistant properties. Because of these properties, it was regularly added to a variety of products, including some car parts. However, researchers have been able to link asbestos to the cause of serious health conditions, such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, which could develop decades after asbestos enters someone’s body.

Which car parts could contain asbestos?

Not all cars contain parts made with asbestos, and it can be difficult to visually tell when a part contains asbestos and when it does not. Older vehicles and classic cars may be more likely than new vehicles to contain parts made with asbestos.

Brake pads and clutches are often the main concerns when it comes to automotive parts containing asbestos. However, some other parts that could contain asbestos, include hood liners, fiberglass, gaskets, valve rings and valve stem packing.

Do home mechanics have a lower risk than professionals?

Without taking proper precautions, professional mechanics could have a high risk of developing an asbestos-related disease because of their work with these parts. Although home mechanics may not spend as much time working on vehicles as professionals do, they also have some risk of developing an asbestos-related condition because no amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe.

Professionals who work on vehicles must follow strict Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. Home mechanics are not required to follow these same rules, but following these rules could help keep them safe.

Unfortunately, home mechanics may not have access to the same specialized equipment that professionals use. For example, home mechanics may not have the proper enclosure, vacuum or low-pressure spray equipment to minimize asbestos exposure when working on brakes or clutches.

How can home mechanics reduce their risks?

Fortunately, there is a safe work-around for those who do not have access to specialized safety equipment. The wet wipe method involves using a spray bottle with a fine mist to wet all brake and clutch parts. Alternatively, you could use a mixture of water and detergent. Then, you can wipe the parts clean with a cloth.

The wet wipe method is safer than using compressed air, which could blow dust around in the air. It is also safer than using a dry rag, a wet brush, a dry brush, a garden hose or a wet/dry vacuum to clean parts.

Other ways home mechanics can reduce their risk of asbestos exposure, includes:

  • Selecting pre-ground parts that are ready to use
  • Using low speeds when drilling, grooving, cutting, beveling or lathe-turning a brake or clutch lining
  • Making sure any machinery you use has a local dust collection system with HEPA filtration
  • Keeping your work area clear of anything unnecessary, such as bystanders, food or drinks
  • Avoiding taking your work clothes or boots into your home

For those who have been exposed to asbestos, it can take decades before symptoms begin to appear. If you are concerned about your potential exposure, it may be beneficial to discuss those concerns with your doctor. This information can help your doctor properly monitor your health, so that if an asbestos-related condition does develop, he or she can diagnosis it as early as possible.

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