Asbestos is an insidious part of Australia’s history. Touted as the material of the future it was widely used in building products during the second half of the 20th century and those who worked with the material, and their families, have been dealing with the fallout ever since.
However, what is less known is how widespread its use was in cars and car parts. What has concerned us in recent years, is an upward trend in the number of enquiries from mechanics who have been exposed to asbestos through car parts, such as brake pads.
Asbestos-related diseases can take years to manifest and this troubling rise appears to result from asbestos exposure in mechanics and home car enthusiasts several decades ago who worked with and replaced various car and motor parts containing the dangerous substance.
Over the past two years I have seen a 200 per cent rise in the number of former mechanics who have sought legal support, which is why it is fundamental that people understand the risks associated with working on older cars.
Typically, mechanics were exposed to asbestos when replacing brake pads and clutches and using compressed air to remove dust that had accumulated. Surprisingly asbestos was still being used in auto parts such as brake pads as recently as the early 2000s.
A possible reason for the recent rise in enquiries could be that around 40 years ago, society moved from one-car families to two-car families with many adding “that other run-around” vehicle.
Prior to the introduction of the computerised car systems we are now used to, simpler engines and parts meant that it was fairly easy for car enthusiasts to fix that run around vehicle at home, thus avoiding the cost of paying a mechanic.
As a result there is also a risk for home mechanics who worked on cars in the past and who are working on older cars now.
Asbestos becomes a potential risk to health if fibres become airborne and are breathed into the lungs, potentially leading to a number of extremely serious conditions.
Because asbestos-related illnesses tend not to show for decades, we are only now starting to see and understand the real impact.
It really doesn’t take a lot of exposure to asbestos for someone to potentially develop a life-threatening disease.
Due to the long tail of these diseases it’s important that if you believe you have been exposed that you register the details of that exposure as soon as possible. Years later, it can be very difficult to remember the details of where, when and how you were exposed.