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Helpful Information

Personal Exposures to Asbestos Fibers During Brake Maintenance of Passenger Vehicles - Ann Occup Hyg (2012)


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Manufacturers of asbestos-containing products were well aware of the hazards of asbestos by the early 1900s. Asbestos brake companies were put on notice of the health hazards of asbestos by countless medical and scientific reports and articles. Those articles focused on three major diseases: asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Since the 1930s Industrial hygiene authorities have been well aware that the release of asbestos fibers from asbestos-containing friction material could pose serious health problem to workers who were exposed to it. The first suspicion that exposure to asbestos was a cause of serious, progressive and fatal disease of the respiratory tract was in 18991. In 1932, E.R.A. Merewhether, M.D. and C.W. Price, Inspectors of Factories in the service of the British Government, published an article titled "Memorandum on the Industrial Diseases of Silicosis and Asbestosis". The article included "grinding and tuning in the dry state of articles composed wholly or partially of asbestos, such as motor car brake and clutch linings, electrical conductors and packings and jointing" in a list of "processes involving exposure to asbestos dusts, which are known to give rise to asbestosis, or in which the conditions are such as to be liable to produce the disease". It was then firmly established that asbestos-containing dust was an industrial hazard that caused a debilitating and fatal lung scarring disease known as asbestosis.

The first suspicion that exposure to asbestos could cause cancer of the lung was raised in 19352. Following, in 1955, Sir Richard Doll published an important and influential study on the incidence of lung cancer among asbestos workers in the English textile industry. The workers studied by Doll were employed by Turner and Newall, the same company that manufactured a product called Limpet, an asbestos-containing fireproofing material. The study was especially significant because it was based upon a large number of workers and applied modern epidemiologic analysis. The study confirmed a ten-fold in lung cancer among asbestos exposed workers.

The idea that asbestos exposure could cause malignant mesothelioma was raised in 19433. Between 1947 and 1959, the association between asbestos exposure and the induction of malignant mesothelioma was further documented in the United States4, in England5, in Germany6, in Italy7, and in the Netherlands8.

In addition to the medical and scientific articles discussed above, a number of asbestos brake manufacturers were members of trade associations that published articles and newsletters that outlined the dangers of asbestos exposure. These trade associations were the Industrial Hygiene Foundation, National Safety Council, Friction Materials Standards Institute.

Despite recent documentation regarding the health hazards of asbestos, various brake manufacturers failed in their continuance to warn about these dangers. With the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation in 1971, a minority of asbestos brake manufacturers began to place small warning signs on their brake products. These warnings had little to no effect as they were quite small and did not warn that exposure to asbestos caused lung cancer or mesothelioma.

In short, brake manufacturers warned too little, too late, and very few brake companies placed warnings on their products.


1. HMSO, 1899 ^

2. Lynch and Smith, 1935; and Gloyne, 1935 ^

3. Wedler, 1943 ^

4. Mallory et al., 1947 ^

5. Wyers, 1949; Doll, 1955 ^

6. Weiss, 1953; Leicher, 1954 ^

7. Francia and Monaraca, 1956 ^

8. Van Der Schoot, 1958; and Schoranagel, 1958 ^