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Safety precautions can help protect home mechanics from asbestos

When you have the necessary skills, completing auto repairs yourself can be a great way to save money. However, did you know that without the proper precautions, your DIY auto repairs could cost you your health?

Some car parts, such as brake and clutch components, may be made with asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral known for its insulative and heat-resistant qualities. When asbestos enters the body it can cause aggressive forms of cancer, such as mesothelioma.

When might I be risking asbestos exposure?

Some car parts that could contain asbestos include:

  • Transmissions
  • Hood liners
  • Gaskets
  • Valve rings
  • Valve stem packing
  • Fiberglass
  • Disk brake pads
  • Drum brake linings
  • Brake blocks
  • Clutch facings

Although asbestos can be in numerous car parts, your greatest risk may involve being exposed to potentially contaminated asbestos dust when repairing or replacing brakes or clutches. Unfortunately, you often cannot easily tell if brake or clutch components contain asbestos or not, especially if the vehicle is older or has already had the brakes or clutch replaced once.

Exposure can occur when brake or clutch components break down releasing particles into the air where they can easily be inhaled. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations require professional mechanics to follow specific safety procedures to reduce this type of exposure at work, but as a home mechanic, you may not have access to the same equipment professional shops use.

Are there ways to prevent this type of asbestos exposure?

If you plan on doing break or clutch work on your vehicle, there are several safety precautions you may consider taking to reduce potential asbestos exposure. One precaution involves using safe methods to clean potentially contaminated dust. Dust may be seen when a brake disk, drum, clutch cover or wheel is removed, but remember that some dust particles may be too small to see.

Avoid using compressed air, dry rags, a garden hose or a brush to clean potentially contaminated dust. Instead, use the wet wipe method, which involves using a spray bottle to mist water or a water/detergent mixture onto the surface, then wiping the area clean with a cloth. You should double bag the potentially-contaminated waste, and dispose of it according to your local regulations.

Additional safety precautions include:

  • Using pre-ground parts that are ready to install
  • Making sure machinery and shop vacuums are equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration
  • Keeping other people out of the work area
  • Prohibiting food or drink in the work area
  • Not wearing work clothes in the home
  • Washing work clothes separately

If you are exposed to asbestos, it may take decades for symptoms of asbestos-related diseases to appear. If you are concerned about past exposure you may have had, it may be appropriate to share your concerns with your doctor. Regular medical examinations can help diagnose mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases as early as possible.

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