Boilermakers and Asbestos
A boilermaker is an individual who makes, installs, repairs and maintains boilers and other large heating and pressure vessels that are designed to hold liquids or gasses.
Think about the word "boiler" and you'll no doubt associate the term with intense heat. That's certainly an accurate assumption. Because of their heat producing properties, boilers and other similar vessels or the pipes that attached to them were - prior to the 1970s - insulated with asbestos-containing materials. This asbestos lagging is still commonly found today as boilers often last several decades and those wrapped in asbestos may still be present in today's older buildings.
What makes the boilermaker's job so dangerous is that the asbestos on old boilers in need of repair is often already damaged or must be manipulated during repair, making the possibility of exposure to toxic fibers quite high. It's not unusual for the boilermaker to sand, grind, hammer, or file during the installation or repair process. And because boilers are often located in small, dark places, unintentional damage to existing asbestos may occur without warning.
Companies that manufactured asbestos-containing boilers from approximately the 1920s until the 1970s include:
- Babcock & Wilcox
- Combustion Engineering
- Foster Wheeler
- Erie City
- Cleaver Brooks
Many of these companies also manufactured asbestos-containing gaskets, refractory lining materials and insulation for the boilers, all used to create an absolutely heat-resistant environment for the boiler but causing potential harm to the boilermaker.
For decades, most boilermakers were totally unaware of the dangers posed by their constant and close-up work with asbestos materials. Many employers were familiar with the hazards but failed to share the information with their employees. That means the workers were given little or no protective gear that would prevent inhalation and - many years later - large numbers of boilermakers were diagnosed with asbestos-related lung diseases, such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Today, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers trade union continues to help educate those in the field about the dangers of exposure to asbestos and helps those afflicted with asbestos-related diseases receive proper compensation for their suffering.
Last modified: December 09, 2009.