The plumbing trade consists of pipe layers, pipe fitters and steamfitters. The responsibilities of plumbers include installation, maintenance and repair of waste, gas and water piping systems in both residential buildings and small commercial buildings. Steamfitters are plumbers that specialize in piping that is used for transporting high-pressured substances. Pipe fitters mainly work in larger sized buildings such as commercial sites.

Although archaic plumbing systems first appeared in ancient times, modern plumbing was not used in the United States until the mid-1800s. Pipes in those days were made from wood until iron began being used in the nineteenth century. The first indoor plumbing in the United States was installed in a luxury hotel in Boston. Five year afterwards, Isaiah Rogers improved the design and it was installed in the Astor House in New York.  Chicago was the first U.S. city to have a comprehensive sewage system, and by the early twentieth century, indoor toilets had largely replaced outhouses.

Asbestos and Plumbing

Of course, these new sewage systems required plumbers to keep them running.  Plumbers were often exposed to asbestos while working between the years of 1940 through 1980 when many of the materials they used contained asbestos. Asbestos insulation was commonly used to protect tanks, pipes, boilers, ducts and other parts of the plumbing system. Plumbing materials that were also made with asbestos included gaskets, pipe block, cement insulation and pipe coating. Because of the small closed spaces that plumbers often worked in and because no protective masks were worn, asbestos was often inhaled as they sawed, cut asbestos paper, soldered and sanded block insulation. Because of these tasks, small asbestos fibers were released into the air, which sadly can cause an asbestos related disease when inhaled.

Plumbers often encountered products that contained asbestos on a regular basis, which increased the risks of asbestos exposure. This exposure is the sole cause of mesothelioma. These products include corrugated asbestos paper, block insulation, joint and elbow fillers, carbonate of magnesia, which is magnesium carbonate combined with asbestos and hydrous calcium silicate, which contained a small amount of asbestos. Other asbestos products that plumbers routinely worked with were laminated asbestos felt, also known as asbestos sponge felt that is made with magnesia and asbestos and diatomaceous earth with asbestos fiber, which contained a mix of asbestos and diatomaceous silica to withstand extreme temperatures of up to 1900 degrees F.