You’ve probably heard of asbestos and the serious health problems attached to it: mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. The EPA has banned asbestos in many friable (crumbles easily) asbestos-containing products, but there is no all-out ban, and it’s important to know that there is still asbestos in brakes pads and other car parts. This affects mechanics working in a shop and DIYers alike, and appropriate precautions should be taken to limit exposure to yourself and others.
Toxic Airborne Events
Asbestos is dangerous because it’s composed of minuscule but knife-like fibers that can be released into the air and easily inhaled, consumed, or attach to clothing without you knowing it, posing a risk to others as well. So a good question to start with is, “If asbestos is so bad for you, why is it used at all?” The answer is that it’s really good at a few things and readily (and cheaply) available. It can sustain a tremendous amount of heat and has high tensile strength, making it ideal for insulation and high-friction environments. It should be noted that asbestos is also still used in other industries such as construction, but we’ll be focusing on the automotive uses here.
Unrecommended Doses of Fiber
Where cars are concerned, asbestos can be found in brake pads and shoes, gaskets, seals, clutch assemblies and valve rings. Most new products made in the U.S. are now being assembled with a limited, to zero, amount of asbestos, but there’s a ton of it still out there in existing parts, and parts imported from overseas. You can’t tell if something has asbestos by looking at it, so the best rule of thumb is to always assume that it does. This is not to say that you should try to replace everything in your life that might contain asbestos … as long as the material isn’t disturbed, you should be OK. The good news is, if asbestos is left intact and undisturbed, it won’t harm you.
On cars with asbestos in the brake linings, using compressed air to clean the area or a hammer to dislodge calipers, etc., poses an enormous risk and OSHA has issued several abatement techniques to apply before and while attempting this kind of work. Regular vacuums will not do the trick, and neither will aerosol spray. While the instructions for how to manage potential asbestos-containing material are detailed, it’s also important to practice safety measures like good hygiene, simply washing your hands. Read detailed instructions from OSHA before continuing on your project.
Remember that yes asbestos is still around, but as long as the proper precautions are taken and asbestos-containing materials are undisturbed, you can greatly reduce you and your loved one’s risk of harmful exposure. Always play it safe if you’re unsure what you’re dealing with.
Check out all the brake system parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on asbestos in brakes, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.
Source: NAPA Know How