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Do Asbestos Gaskets Cause Mesothelioma?

Back in the day, asbestos was everywhere – pipes, pumps, gaskets – because it seemed like a miracle material thanks to its strong, fire-resistant material and versatility. Although asbestos the gaskets were believed to be helpful at the time, many employees, such as plumbers and factory workers, were put at risk of asbestos exposure during gasket installation and repairs. When gaskets that contained or were made with asbestos are removed or damaged, their fibers are released into the air and can cause asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Plumbers encountered pipes daily, and when they cut, sawed, or sanded asbestos-containing material, their fibers became airborne and were easily inhaled. This article is here to help you understand the dangers of those asbestos gaskets, how you might have been exposed, and what options are available to you if you’re facing an asbestos-related illness. Read to learn more about the gaskets, exposure risks, and options for plumbers who may have been exposed to asbestos on the job.

Types of Asbestos Gaskets

There were four gaskets most encountered by plumbers and workers: rope, oval, sheet packing, and spiral wound gaskets. Exposure to these gaskets can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, asbestosis, and benign pleural diseases. Since asbestos was nonconductive and noncorrosive, plumbers used these types of gaskets to create a seal between pipes to avoid leaks. During the 1980s, proper protective equipment (PPE) was not enforced as it is today to help prevent exposure. Now, plumbers’ PPE includes disposable clothing and equipment to help protect their face, hands, body, and respiratory system from asbestos exposure.

Historical Context and Current Regulations

The significant health risks associated with asbestos have led to stringent safety regulations banning or heavily restricting the use of asbestos in many countries. As a result, these types of gaskets are no longer manufactured. These regulations aim to protect workers and the public from the harmful effects of asbestos exposure, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. In the past, several companies were connected to the production. These companies included:

  • Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
  • John Crane
  • Garlock
  • Flexitallic
  • Anchor Packing
  • Dana Corporation

Transitioning away from asbestos-containing products has been crucial in reducing the abundance of asbestos-related diseases. Modern gaskets now utilize safer materials that do not pose the same health risks, reflecting the industry’s shift towards prioritizing health and safety.

1. Asbestos Rope Gaskets

Asbestos rope gaskets were made of soft rope woven from asbestos fibers. Plumbers utilized asbestos rope gaskets because of their flexibility and ability to form any sealing size. Rope gaskets were convenient for sealing the doors of boilers, furnaces, and ovens. Asbestos rope gaskets are still used today but are made with fiberglass instead of asbestos. Some common characteristics of Asbestos rope gaskets include;

  • Material: Soft, woven asbestos fibers
  • Properties: Flexible, conforms to various sizes
  • Common Uses: Sealing boiler/furnace/oven doors (replaced by fiberglass today)
  • Professions Linked: Plumbers, factory workers, shipyard workers
  • Dangers: Exposure to fibers during installation/removal/damage can cause serious health problems (mesothelioma, lung cancer).

2. Asbestos Oval Gaskets

Asbestos oval gaskets were specifically designed for oil and natural gas production applications. Their unique shape, featuring a wire mesh core wrapped with compressed asbestos, allowed them to handle the demanding conditions of these environments. Unlike other gaskets, they could withstand both high temperatures and harsh chemicals. Some common characteristics of Asbestos oval gaskets include;

  • Material: Wire mesh core with compressed asbestos
  • Properties: High-temperature & chemical resistance
  • Common Uses: Oil & natural gas production
  • Professions Linked: Oil refinery workers, factory workers, mechanics, auto mechanics
  • Dangers: Similar to rope gaskets, exposure to fibers during handling/damage poses a health risk.

3. Asbestos Sheet Gaskets or Sheet Packing

Asbestos sheet gaskets or packing were made from pressed asbestos and synthetic plastic fibers, creating a cardboard-like sheet for manufacturers and installation workers to punch out gaskets of all shapes and sizes. Plumbers and pipefitters often encountered asbestos gaskets because they were convenient for manually cutting individual parts for sealing pipes, tanks, and other containers on the job site. Some common characteristics of Asbestos sheet gaskets and Sheet Packing include;

  • Material: Asbestos & plastic fibers (cardboard-like sheet)
  • Properties: Easy to cut & shape for sealing
  • Common Uses: Sealing pipes, tanks, containers (not recommended)
  • Professions Linked: Plumbers, pipefitters, construction workers, factory workers, appliance repair workers
  • Dangers: Cutting/shaping/disturbing can release asbestos fibers into the air, leading to health problems.

4. Asbestos Spiral Wound Gaskets

Asbestos spiral wound gaskets were the strongest of the four pipes because they were made from concentric layers of asbestos and metal. These types of gaskets were built to withstand the highest pressures. Although the product was designed to withstand pressure, the design left almost pure friable asbestos fibers exposed to the air. Common characteristics of asbestos spiral wound gaskets include;

  • Material: Concentric layers of asbestos & metal
  • Properties: Strongest, high-pressure resistance
  • Common Uses: Oil & natural gas production
  • Professions Linked: Boilermakers, construction workers, mechanics, factory workers
  • Dangers: Design exposes friable asbestos fibers, increasing risk of inhalation & related diseases during installation/removal/wear and tear.

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Dangers of Asbestos Exposure from Gaskets

Workers may have inhaled airborne fibers during gasket installation and repairs. Plumbers were also exposed when scraping or cutting gaskets during regular maintenance. Asbestos gaskets and ropes were some of the more high-risk asbestos products. Gaskets subjected to normal wear and tear from the pressure of the pipes released fibers into the air, exposing anyone who encountered the pipe without PPE.

Exposure to asbestos from gaskets can lead to several severe health conditions, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, asbestosis, and benign pleural diseases. One of the challenges with combatting asbestos-related diseases is their long latency period. The time between exposure and the appearance of mesothelioma symptoms can range from 20 to 50 years, making early detection and treatment difficult. This long latency period means that individuals exposed to asbestos may not realize they have been affected until many years later, often when the disease has progressed to a more severe stage.

Safe Asbestos Abatement and Removal 

Asbestos gaskets are friable and can be crumbled by hand under pressure. Most gaskets have an asbestos content of up to 80%, and when removed, they release a significant amount of asbestos into the air. Attempting DIY asbestos removal is extremely dangerous and can lead to severe health risks due to improper handling and the potential release of asbestos fibers into the air. Hiring a professional for asbestos removal is strongly recommended to prevent exposing others and avoid fines for improper removal.

Abatement workers use PPE and create a negative pressure environment to prevent exposing themselves and others to the toxic fibers. Workers are trained and equipped to properly dampen asbestos-containing material before removal to reduce the amount of asbestos dust in the air and to protect the public from exposure. They then contain asbestos waste from the building structure in an airtight labeled container or polythene sack for disposal.

Legal Options for Asbestos-Related Illnesses

Plumbers and other workers exposed to asbestos on the job may be entitled to receive compensation. Our patient advocates offer free case evaluations for exposed workers and their families. If you believe you may have been exposed to asbestos on the job, an experienced attorney can help you identify exposure and file a claim against the manufacturer. If the manufacturer has gone bankrupt, asbestos exposure victims can receive compensation from asbestos trust funds. Here’s how you can explore your legal options specific to asbestos gasket exposure:

  • Free Case Evaluations: We offer free case evaluations to assess your situation and determine if you have a valid claim related to asbestos gasket exposure. This evaluation can help you understand if your work history with gaskets aligns with the type of asbestos used and the health problems you’re facing.
  • Identifying Exposure: An experienced attorney can help you investigate your work history and pinpoint potential sources of asbestos exposure, including the specific types of asbestos gaskets you may have encountered. This investigation can involve reviewing work records and materials safety data sheets (MSDS) from the time period and potentially speaking with former colleagues.
  • Seeking Compensation: If the manufacturer of the specific asbestos gaskets you were exposed to is still in business, you might be able to file a workers’ compensation claim against them. An attorney can help you navigate the legal process and fight for your deserved compensation.
  • Asbestos Trust Funds: If the manufacturer of the asbestos gaskets has gone bankrupt, there are still options. Asbestos trust funds were established to compensate victims exposed to asbestos from these companies. An attorney can help determine if you qualify for compensation from a trust fund based on the type of asbestos gasket and the manufacturer.

Getting Screened After Encountering Asbestos

Early detection is the key to improving your prognosis and accessing a wider range of treatment options. Although there is no cure for asbestos-related diseases, there are more treatment options available in the earlier stages of the disease. Screenings and diagnostic techniques from a mesothelioma specialist can be used for early detection. If you suspect you were exposed to asbestos gaskets or other asbestos-containing materials, it is crucial to consult a doctor immediately.

Regular mesothelioma detection screenings can significantly increase your survival rate by catching the disease early. Don’t wait until it’s too late—early detection can make a significant difference. Contact us today or reach out to one of our patient advocates to help find a screening center near you.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2024 at 07:23 pm

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