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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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Braking mechanisms in passenger vehicles are similar to the air-brake deceleration systems in industrial sized tractor trailers and large commercial vehicles, which are dependent upon the creation and use of friction. Friction creating surfaces inside braking mechanisms are subject to frequent wear and tear; therefore, linings require regular replacement. From the 1950s to the 1990s, friction-creating brake linings often contained high concentrations of chrysotile asbestos, a carcinogenic fiber which can cause mesothelioma. Asbestos-containing brake lining materials have placed brake and auto mechanics and their assistants at high risk of developing mesothelioma and other debilitating respiratory conditions.

Asbestos Exposure and the Brake Replacement Process

Brake assemblies of passenger automobiles contain only one brake shoe and one brake lining for each brake drum. Brake assemblies of industrial sized commercial vehicles, such as trucks and tractor-trailers, generally contain two brake shoes and four brake linings for each brake drum. Replacement brake linings, manufactured by Eaton, Rockwell, Bendix, and Abex (American Brake Block), frequently contained asbestos. Mechanics that performed replacement brake work were likely exposed to airborne asbestos dust released into their work space during the replacement of a brake lining.

Specific processes involved in the lining replacement process vary slightly between different types of industrial sized vehicles, and there are general procedures used during the lining replacement process that are applicable to all commercial vehicles. In order to replace a worn brake-lining, a brake mechanic must remove the vehicle's tire and the brake drum that contains the lining in need of replacement. If the brake drum has rusted or corroded, its removal from a wheel shaft requires the use of sledgehammer. After the successful removal of the brake drum, a brake mechanic will locate and remove the worn brake lining and clean the entire brake assembly with a high powered air hose. Using a sledgehammer and an air hose during the brake replacement process has been known to dislodge loose asbestos dust into the breathing area of not only the mechanic performing replacement brake work, but also his assistants and any other individuals near the mechanic's work space.

After the brake assembly is cleaned and in order to complete the brake replacement process, the surface of the replacement brake lining must be chamfered to an appropriate size. Leveling the brake lining to size is usually completed with sandpaper or a bench grinder. Experts consider sanding and bench grinding of asbestos-containing brake linings to be the most significant source of asbestos exposure during the brake replacement process. Asbestos dust created from sanding and grinding brake parts has been known to linger in the air of a work space for up to three to four days after the completion of replacement brake work.

Because of the large number of tires on industrial sized trucks and tractor-trailers, a mechanic who regularly works with these vehicles may have replaced up to 4,800 asbestos-containing linings annually. This figure contributes to the likelihood of massive and prolonged asbestos exposure for many current and former mechanics.

The attorneys at Lipsitz & Ponterio, LLC, have gathered a vast amount of information concerning asbestos-containing brake materials. Our clients understand the importance of securing legal representation as soon as possible after a diagnosis of mesothelioma or lung cancer. If you or a loved one has a past history of replacing brake linings and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, we urge you to contact us regarding your legal rights.