Boilermakers manufactured and maintained boilers throughout the country. Many boilers and boiler rooms made in the mid-20th century used asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral. Asbestos seemed useful because it prevented boilers from being damaged by intense heat. However, asbestos proved to be dangerous to human health.
How Boilermakers Could Be at Risk
Boilers allow buildings or ships to harness the power of steam to produce heat and energy. Boilermakers are those who help make, maintain, and install boilers for clients around the world.
Boilermakers can work in a variety of settings, and they may travel around to do maintenance work. Office buildings, industrial plants, apartment complexes, schools, warehouses, or other locations may use steam as a heat or power source.
Boilers have been in use for over 100 years. From the 1920s to the 1980s, nearly every duty associated with boilermaking put workers in contact with asbestos. This deadly mineral is known to cause diseases like cancer.
Today, hundreds of boilermakers are being diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer decades after they were exposed to asbestos. Current boilermakers are still at risk if they work on older boilers that use asbestos products.
Boilermakers or their loved ones who think their asbestos exposure led to long-term health problems later in life have options. Legal action may be the next step to take. Working with an experienced asbestos law firm like Sokolove Law can help you get compensation for your illness.
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A History of Boilers and Asbestos
Boilermaking was one of the highest-risk jobs for asbestos exposure. Boilermakers often worked in confined spaces. As a result, it would be easy for workers to inhale them if asbestos fibers were disturbed while on the job.
Starting in the 1920s, manufacturers began to use asbestos to improve the durability of boilers. Boilers had to perform well under high heat and pressure. Because of this, asbestos was deemed a very effective material for the industry.
Asbestos was favored for a number of reasons, including its:
- Fireproofing capabilities
- Strength and durability
- Resistance to electricity
These properties led asbestos to be labeled a "miracle mineral." Over the next 50 years, asbestos was used in boilers and related products like insulation, pipes, and adhesives.
For manufacturers, asbestos almost seemed too good to be true — and it was. Asbestos is light, durable, resistant to heat, electricity, and water damage. It was also cheap for corporations to extract.
Unfortunately, when asbestos is disturbed, small fibers can break off into the air and be inhaled. After they are inhaled, the fibers can get lodged in the lungs or in the linings of vital organs. This eventually leads to deadly diseases.
Asbestos use was restricted in the 1980s by the federal government. By then, numerous studies had shown that the mineral could lead to serious health problems.
However, asbestos companies had already known for decades that the material was dangerous. Instead of making the public aware, the companies hid their knowledge so they would continue to profit.
Asbestos-related diseases often do not develop until 20-50 years after initial exposure. This is because the fibers slowly irritate healthy tissue inside the body. It takes decades for this damage to become serious. When illnesses do arise, they are often aggressive.
How Were Boilermakers Exposed to Asbestos?
Boilermakers could have been exposed to asbestos in several ways while on the job.
Boilermakers may have been exposed to asbestos from:
- Boiler Manufacturing: Factories and assembly lines that produced boilers in the mid-20th century almost always used asbestos. Asbestos is less dangerous if it is left undisturbed, but this never happened on assembly lines. Workers were required to complete their task and pass it on. As a result, it was almost impossible for workers to avoid being exposed. Companies like Babcock and Wilcox, Combustion Engineering, Foster Wheeler, and Kewanee Manufacturing used many asbestos products to make boilers.
- Boiler Maintenance: Upkeep of boilers also put boilermakers constantly at risk. Because of the way that boilers produce energy, they can easily become damaged if something goes wrong. Raw asbestos was sometimes used to repair cracks in boilers. Changing insulation could cause asbestos fibers to go airborne.
- Boiler Rooms and Other Components: Boilers were often built using valves, piping, gaskets, and beams that used asbestos. Boiler rooms also used asbestos to insulate the walls, ceiling, doors, and floor. This made boiler rooms especially dangerous.
- Tools and Clothing: Asbestos would be used in the equipment and clothes that boilermakers wore. The fire-resistant properties of asbestos would help keep workers safe from high heat and accidents. When boilermakers brought asbestos-containing clothing home, it also put their families in danger.
- Construction Sites: Boilermakers on construction sites could have suffered additional exposure from many asbestos-based products. For example, those who helped remove boilers from demolition sites could have been exposed if the building or ship in question was made with asbestos.
The most dangerous boiler-related profession was the shipyard boilermaker. Shipyards contained a huge amount of asbestos-related materials. This was on top of the materials already used in boilers. Boilermakers in shipyards would spend long hours in cramped spaces surrounded by asbestos products. This created the perfect cocktail for serious health problems later on.
What Boiler Parts Contained Asbestos?
The following boiler parts often contained asbestos:
- Adhesives and tape for asbestos paper, pipes, and wires
- Bearing and roller additives
- Block insulation around boiler bases
- Boiler tank interior liners
- Floor, ceiling, wall, and steam pipe insulation
- Gaskets seams and other sealants
- Pipe wrapping and other insulative wrapping
- Powdered cement
- Rigging components like slings and chains
- Rope used to seal door and hatches
- Valves and vessels
Help for Boilermakers and Their Families
More and more people continue to be diagnosed with diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer. Thus, it is important for boilermakers to know their options.
The truth is that asbestos-related diseases have no cure and progressively worsen over time. They were also completely preventable. However, asbestos companies chose to ignore the warnings so they could make more money. In the process, they put thousands of people just like you at risk.
"Data suggest there is no safe level of asbestos exposure."
Luckily, all hope is not lost for boilermakers and their loved ones who may have been exposed to asbestos. Once the dangers of asbestos became more apparent, government agencies and law firms sought to hold asbestos companies accountable.
Today, billions of dollars have been set aside by asbestos companies in the form of trust funds. These funds are specifically for victims of asbestos-related illnesses.
Sokolove Law can help you understand your legal options and potentially help you access these funds. As a mesothelioma law firm with over 40 years of experience in the industry, you can trust our commitment to finding justice for mesothelioma patients.