Asbestos brake pads and brake linings have mostly been phased out, but they are still on some vehicles today. According to an original brake pad supplier, the Ford Motor Company was still using asbestos brake pads and linings as recently as 1993. (AA1car.com).
The same supplier also reported that asbestos linings may still be used on more expensive, imported vehicles such as the Land Rover because of superior braking characteristics. Furthermore, asbestos brake pads and linings are still sold on the aftermarket.
Front-Wheel Drive Arrived in the 80s, But Asbestos Pads Still Sold
Asbestos was once used on all vehicles in the US, but when front-wheel-drive cars arrived in the 1980s, semi-metallic front disc brake pads were required for the higher operating temperatures. But auto manufacturers continued to use asbestos brake pads on the rear brakes and even sometimes on the front brakes. Why?
Asbestos was and still is an excellent material for brake pads and linings. It has superior strength, chemical and temperature resistance, and is inexpensive compared to other materials. But the properties that make asbestos so good in brake pads also make them hazardous to humans. Some people who are exposed to tiny asbestos fibers in the air in automotive settings may eventually develop mesothelioma or other serious health conditions.
Asbestos First Banned in the Early 1980s
In the early 1980s, northern European countries were the first to enact a ban on products containing asbestos, such as brake pads, brake linings, clutch linings, and engine gaskets. In 1986, the EPA proposed a ban on most products containing asbestos in the United States. The rules further banned most imported products with asbestos in them. That became a total ban in 1996. (LAtimes.com).
You would think that asbestos would have become extinct. Automotive suppliers and others worked to come up with substitute products that did not contain asbestos. But the ban that was proposed by EPA was overturned in the courts. One reason was the ban could put many brake rebuilding shops out of business. That is why asbestos still is with us in the automotive industry to a certain degree.
Asbestos Dangers Lurk in Automotive Settings Today
Although US automakers report they do not use brake pads, brake linings or clutch linings that contain asbestos, many aftermarket brake part suppliers still sell products containing asbestos.
According to the EPA, you cannot tell if a brake or clutch part has asbestos by merely looking at them. For newer parts and vehicles, labels, or Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) might tell you if the parts contain asbestos. But for older cars, it is difficult to determine. There also is no law stating that brake pads, shoes or linings containing asbestos must have a label. So, it is a good idea to treat every car, truck, or SUV as if it could have asbestos-containing brake pads or shoes. (EPA.gov).
Act As If Brake Parts Contain Asbestos
OSHA also confirms that mechanics should act as if all brakes have shoes containing asbestos. Worn brakes that contain asbestos cannot be easily distinguished from one another.
The danger of asbestos is usually for people who work in the asbestos processing and handling industries. But when the asbestos materials are enclosed in other materials, they are not dangerous to most workers in brake, gasket, and clutch manufacturing.
However, brake technicians in automotive shops and DIYers who change brake pads and shoes can be at risk. Dust builds up, and as the linings wear, asbestos fibers can be exposed and released into the air.
Some of the dust will cling to various brake parts, and some will be blown away. If the worker or consumer uses an air hose to blow out the air drum or clean off brake parts, he is actually blowing countless asbestos fibers into the air to be possibly inhaled.
Brake dust fibers also can stick to your clothes and pose dangers to people in your home; work clothes could be washed with other people’s laundry. This is hazardous because the spread of asbestos fibers in the home can cause secondary exposure.
Best Practices to Follow for Handling Brake Pads and Parts
For commercial automotive shops that work on at least five brake jobs per week, OSHA regulations state one of the following systems must be in place:
- Negative-Pressure Enclosure/HEPA Vacuum System Method: This vacuum and enclosure system has a box with clear walls or windows. It fits tightly around the brake assembly so the worker is not exposed to asbestos.
- Low pressure/wet cleaning method: Low-pressure spray equipment that keeps the brake assembly moist. It catches the brake runoff in a basin, so brake dust does not spread in the shop.
If you work in a shop that does no more than five brake jobs per week, the wet wipe method is required. This involves the use of a spray bottle to keep all brake and clutch parts wet. The parts should be then wiped clean with a cloth.
For home mechanics, the following is recommended by EPA to prevent asbestos exposure:
- Only use pre-ground, ready-to-install brake parts.
- If a brake lining must be grooved, cut, drilled, or lathed, use low speeds to reduce dust.
- Use machines with a dust collection system with a HEPA filtration device to prevent exposure and workplace contamination.
- Change your clothes before going into the home. Wash dirty clothes separately.
- Reduce brake dust exposure to others by keeping other people, as well as food and drink, away from your work area.
While asbestos use in the United States has been greatly reduced, the dangerous carcinogen is still present in brake pads, shoes, linings, and other parts. If you think you have developed mesothelioma or another asbestos-related condition from working with brake parts, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney.