Pipefitters are responsible for designing, repairing, and installing the huge, elaborate pipe systems found in big manufacturing facilities or commercial buildings. A variety of different substances like water, air, gas, steam, and human waste might pass through these pipe systems, depending on the purpose of the facility.

Between 1940 and 1980 anyone working as a pipefitter may have been faced with frequent asbestos exposure on the job. During this period, asbestos was considered the ideal insulator for pipe because of its strong heat and friction resistance. Eventually, it was found that inhaling airborne asbestos fibers often lead to pulmonary diseases and, in the worst cases, asbestos cancer. Since people in this trade frequently worked with asbestos and were face with long periods of exposure, they were put in the high-risk category for asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos and Pipefitting

Pipefitters worked in very close quarters while constructing, installing, and maintaining pipe systems. This made the intensity of their exposure to asbestos even worse, particularly if they did not use facemasks or any other kind of breathing protection. Some of the products that pipefitters used that contained asbestos included Aircell, asbestos paper used in wrapping ducts for air supply; amosite sheeting, a form of asbestos that was used to insulate pipes; and block insulation made with asbestos and other building materials.

Many of the asbestos-containing products that pipefitters worked with had to be cut down or sanded in order fit into the design of a project. Asbestos paper was often cut down to size and insulation blocks and fillers often required sanding in order to fit into a particular spot. This caused an abundance of asbestos dust to get into the air they breathed. Gaskets are another part made from asbestos that were commonly used in their trade. These gaskets had to fit perfectly and thus had to be ground down to the correct size. Maintaining these pipe systems over the years involved taking out worn out asbestos parts, which created even more danger for the workers.  By the 1970s, it was clear that asbestos exposure was linked to mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. Because of their constant exposure, pipefitters and even their families who were received second hand exposure were developing asbestos-related diseases. An important fact is that these diseases may take as long as 40 years to develop after the first exposure to asbestos.