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Asbestos Exposure in Pipefitters

Not to be confused with plumbers, pipefitters are skilled tradespeople who are responsible for the design, installation, and maintenance of the pipe systems found in both manufacturing facilities and commercial buildings. Because pipefitters work on the internal areas of buildings and other structures, they come in contact with insulation, wiring, and other systems necessary to the proper functioning of said structures. Unfortunately, many older buildings, in particular those erected between 1940 and 1980, were manufactured using products containing asbestos.

Pipefitters: A One-Time High-Risk Group

During the period from 1940 to 1980, asbestos was a preferred means of insulating pipes because of its advanced resistance to both heat and friction. As pipefitters worked, routine tasks frequently put them at risk for asbestos exposure. For example, insulation blocks and other forms of insulation had to be sanded down to size and asbestos paper wrap for pipes had to be cut to fit. In the course of only these two necessary activities, a great deal of asbestos dust would be released into the air and was inhaled by pipefitters.

Today, pipefitters working in cramped areas to repair and maintain older equipment are likely to wear ventilation masks that trap asbestos fibers shed from products containing asbestos. However, it is not always immediately evident which products contain asbestos, and in the past, pipefitters were not necessarily encouraged to wear protective gear while working.

Pipefitters Used a Variety of Asbestos-Containing Products

In the past, numerous products that were important to a pipefitter’s responsibilities would have contained asbestos. Aircell, for instance, was a corrugated paper used to wrap air supply ducts and contained as much as 90% asbestos. Asbestos was frequently combined with other materials to form insulating blocks, and while these were typically covered with cloth or tar paper, sometimes were simply bare to the air which meant that asbestos may have been shed into the air with any disturbance.

Pipefitters Still at Risk of Asbestos Exposure

When a pipefitter does any kind of work on a building where asbestos is present, as it frequently is in older structures, he or she may be exposed to asbestos dust or fibers. In such cases, the asbestos exposure may not be due to the pipefitter’s equipment or the fixtures specific to the job at hand, but rather a kind of secondary exposure via insulation and other asbestos-laden products that exist next to or near pipes.

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