Aircraft mechanics who worked in both civilian sectors and the United States military were exposed to a significant amount of asbestos before asbestos parts were replaced with safer parts. Many factors contributed to aircraft mechanics being exposed to asbestos and the severity of conditions that resulted from this exposure. These depend on the particular products the mechanics worked with.
In 1981, a decision was made to replace asbestos parts with alternative parts. Before that year, US Naval aircraft were made with many components that contained asbestos. These included electrical insulation, adhesives, engine insulation and brake pads. Because asbestos has the ability to resist fire and heat, using this product helped reduce the risk of engine fires. Asbestos parts were also used in electrical components that have a tendency to spark if damage occurs to them and in aircraft brakes because of the extreme stress that occurs with landing.
Asbestos and Aircraft Maintenance
Aircraft brakes in particular caused a significant risk to aircraft mechanics because when brakes were used, the brake pads containing asbestos would shear off from their outer layer and turn into dust. This put the mechanics who worked on these brakes at higher risk of asbestos exposure while handling the brakes. Other risk factors that aircraft mechanics experienced occurred while working on planes and removing parts that were adhered to other parts with the use of asbestos-based epoxies. These types of glues released asbestos into the environment when being broken down. The exposure to asbestos was not only to aircraft mechanics, but also mechanics that were aboard US Navy aircraft vessels. Asbestos risks increased because of the often-used asbestos that was used for paint and insulation aboard vessels that were made before 1981.
Asbestos is classified into two different categories. White asbestos or chrysotile is categorized in the serpentine group. This type was the most commonly used. The lungs can become irritated if the asbestos is inhaled. If abrasions occur in the lungs, asbestosis can develop. Amphibole asbestos is the other form, which is significantly more dangerous to people. Pleural mesothelioma and lung cancer are the most common types of cancer that occur because of exposure to this type of asbestos. Although rare, pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma are also associated with this type of asbestos.