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Asbestos in Boilers infographic.

Asbestos in Boilers – Mesothelioma Risk

Boilers are important to many industries, providing essential heat and power to keep mechanical systems and operations running smoothly. However, many boilers were constructed with asbestos-containing materials, which put boilermakers, workers, and people who lived with the product at risk of asbestos exposure. Prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers, which can occur during regular operation and maintenance, can lead to the development of mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer affecting the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart sac.

If you’re a homeowner with a boiler or a professional who works with them, you might have concerns about asbestos in your boiler. Inhaling asbestos fibers can lead to serious health risks, as the fibers lodge themselves in the lining of the lungs and sometimes make their way to other parts of the body.

This blog will discuss the associated health risks, boiler maintenance and operation safety measures, common asbestos-containing components, and other potential toxic emissions. Additionally, we’ll provide information on how to file a claim if you’ve been exposed to asbestos and contracted mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestos. By educating yourself about these potential dangers, you can take proactive steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Asbestos in Boilers and Exposure History

As early as the 1920s, manufacturers used products containing asbestos to improve boilers’ durability against corrosive environments and heat resistance. Using asbestos in boilers ensured efficient heat transfer and minimized damage to the boiler’s metal components.

By the 1980s, a number of research articles had conclusively linked asbestos exposure to a heightened risk of developing cancer. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can become lodged in the body’s tissues, triggering a chronic inflammatory response that damages cellular DNA, ultimately leading to the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells.

For many years, numerous boiler manufacturers and companies in other industries failed to adequately inform their workers about the potential risks of occupational exposure to asbestos. Despite knowing about the risks, they often prioritized profits over people’s health. As a result, boilermakers and thousands of others suffered from this concealed truth, and they often performed this work without proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

Diseases and Symptoms Boilermakers Can Get From Asbestos in Boilers

Apart from mesothelioma, coming into contact with asbestos in boilers can also increase the risk of developing lung cancer, asbestosis, and other respiratory problems, such as pleural plaques. Chrysotile asbestos poisoning occurs when individuals inhale chrysotile asbestos fibers, the most common type of asbestos.

Boilermakers may experience subtle to severe symptoms of asbestos-related diseases that can occur up to 50 years after initial asbestos exposure, including:

  • Shortness of breath: Feeling winded or unable to catch their breath, even when performing simple tasks.
  • Chest pain: Discomfort or tightness in the chest, which can radiate to the arms, shoulders, or jaw.
  • Coughing: Persistent and recurring coughing, which may be dry or produce phlegm. Some patients experience hemoptysis (coughing up blood) as a symptom of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma and asbestosis are often confused with each other, leading to misunderstandings. Despite sharing a connection to asbestos exposure, similar symptoms, and overlapping diagnostic processes, they are different diseases. Mesothelioma is a cancer affecting tissue lining, while asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that affects the lung tissue itself. Treatment approaches also differ, with mesothelioma often requiring surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, and asbestosis treatment focusing on managing symptoms and preventing further asbestos exposure.

Common Asbestos-Containing Boiler Components

Boilers manufactured prior to the 1980s likely contained components with asbestos fibers, or asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). The use of asbestos in boilers aided in insulation and heat regulation. The specific parts and materials used varied depending on boiler design, manufacturer, and age. Some common parts of boilers that may have contained asbestos include:

  • Insulation: Insulation containing asbestos was used around boilers, pipes, and fittings to reduce heat loss and improve efficiency.
  • Refractory materials: Asbestos can be found in heat-resistant materials, such as ceramic blankets, firebrick, and castable cement, that line the internal combustion chambers, furnaces, and flue gas passages in boilers.
  • Gaskets and seals: Gaskets and seals contained asbestos to prevent steam leaks and maintain pressure in boilers.
  • Packing materials: Asbestos packing materials were used around valves, pumps, and other moving parts to prevent leakage and reduce friction.
  • Boiler lagging: The exterior of boilers contained asbestos lagging to reduce heat loss and protect the surrounding area from heat radiation.
  • Pipe insulation: Asbestos was used to insulate pipes carrying hot water, steam, or gas, reducing heat loss and preventing condensation.
  • Valve and pumps: Some boilers contained ACMs in valve and pump components, such as valve seats, packing glands, and pump seals.
  • Boiler doors and dampers: ACMs were used in boiler doors, dampers, and expansion joints to provide insulation and heat resistance.

Shipyard boilermakers and boiler workers, including veterans and civilians, faced elevated levels of asbestos exposure due to their work environment. Shipyard workers often spent long periods confined to cramped, poorly ventilated boiler rooms on ships and in shipyards. Often, the confined spaces had trapped in airborne asbestos fibers, increasing the risk of inhalation among boiler workers.

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Can You Identify Asbestos in a Boiler?

You can identify asbestos in boilers through a combination of visual inspection, professional testing, and analysis. Signs of asbestos may include white, gray, or brown insulation wrapping or packing materials with a fibrous appearance. You may notice warning labels and markings indicating the presence of asbestos, such as “Asbestos-containing” or “ACM.”

The most effective and safest way to identify asbestos in a boiler is to hire a qualified asbestos testing professional to collect samples and perform microscopic tests in a lab. If you suspect asbestos in a boiler, consult with a certified professional for a thorough assessment and recommendations for handling and removal.

Other Toxic Boiler Emissions

Boilermaking is a hazardous profession that involves working with high-pressure steam and hot water, toxic chemicals, and heavy metals. Cramped and poorly ventilated boiler rooms increase the risk of heat stress, chemical exposure, electrical shock, and irreversible injuries. Boilers use various chemicals, such as cleaning agents, corrosion inhibitors, and treatments, which can be harmful if improperly handled. Boilers can also contain heavy metals like lead, chromium, and arsenic, which can be released during maintenance or repairs.

Exposure to these hazards can lead to:

  • Respiratory problems
  • Skin and eye damage
  • Neurological damage
  • Cancer
  • Organ damage
  • Blood disorders

Eventually, employers recognized the need for better protection and began improving safety measures, including performing regular maintenance, inspections, and repairs. Some boilermakers organized and formed unions, allowing them to advocate for safer working conditions. Boilermakers have also played an important role in shaping regulations established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), dating back to 1971.

How to File a Mesothelioma Claim as a Boilermaker

Boilermakers, who have been exposed to asbestos in their line of work, have filed mesothelioma claims to seek compensation for the costs associated with treating their cancer. In the past, boilermakers have filed claims against asbestos manufacturers and suppliers, employers who failed to provide a safe work environment, or asbestos trust funds established by bankrupt companies.

The claims process typically involves consulting with a lawyer specializing in asbestos cases. They will guide you through the process of gathering crucial evidence, including documentation of asbestos exposure and medical records. Next, they will help you file a claim with an asbestos trust fund or through the court system. From there, you may negotiate a settlement or proceed to trial, depending on the specific circumstances of your case.

If you are a current or former boilermaker diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, know that help is available. Let us connect you with experienced legal professionals who can answer your questions, guide you through the claims process, and fight for the compensation you deserve.

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