Pipefitters and plumbers install and repair pipes that provide water, steam, and air to businesses, homes, and factories. Workers in these professions are often exposed to asbestos, which can lead to mesothelioma.
Pipefitters and plumbers work in construction teams on residential and business projects on various plumbing projects. They often install plumbing in new buildings and may be called in to repair an existing issue.
Some plumbers are also self-employed and may work independently. They answer business and homeowner calls about blockages or leakages that affect plumbing. Plumbers and pipefitters also handle the installation of major appliances, such as dishwashers, laundry machines, and garbage disposals.
Unfortunately, plumbing work often involves exposure to asbestos, which is an excellent insulator and resistant to heat. Plumbers and pipefitters historically have a higher than average rate of mesothelioma.
Plumber and Pipefitter Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment: 500,300
- Similar Occupations: Boilermakers, construction laborers, electricians, building inspectors, HVAC installers
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: High
- States With Highest Employment: Alaska, Virginia, Illinois, and Oregon (Zippia.com)
Since the early 1960s, approximately 5.3 million miles of copper plumbing has been installed in buildings in the United States. This high level of plumbing work has put plumbers and pipefitters at risk of asbestos exposure because of the great number of asbestos-containing products they use in installation and repair. Many of the dangerous products and parts were made from 1940 until 1970. (Asbestos.com)
Plumber Asbestos Exposure
As plumbers and pipefitters engage in their work, asbestos fibers can be released into the air. For example, plumbers sand and saw the asbestos paper, drill products containing asbestos to fit various dimensions, and saw and join pipes. Once asbestos fibers are sucked into the lungs or mouth, they can remain in the lungs or abdomen for decades. The slow accumulation of toxic fibers may lead to inflammation and scarring that can cause mesothelioma or asbestosis.
For decades, asbestos was often used to insulate hot pipes, boilers, tanks, and ducts. Piping is the most common product that plumbers and pipefitters deal within their work. Pipes must be sawed, drilled, and cut to precise sizes and lengths to fit into a building or house. This work may disturb asbestos fibers and release them into the air.
Plumbers and pipefitters also face health risks as they handle gaskets, valves, and pumps that may contain asbestos. Pumps and valves are used to pressurize and circulate water and various fluids. Gaskets are needed inside pumps and valves so leaks do not occur. Over the years, these parts can become worn and may need replacement. When the plumber takes out the old parts, asbestos fibers may be released in the air, where they can be inhaled.
Scientific Studies on Plumber & Pipefitter Asbestos Exposure
A 2007 study in The Annals of Occupational Hygiene (Researchgate.net) suggests a high risk of asbestos exposure to various maintenance workers, including plumbers, who can easily disturb materials that contain asbestos. The study also found that plumbers and pipefitters working in buildings that had been cleaned of asbestos just before their work still may have had asbestos-containing materials inside.
Plumber Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits
There have been many successful personal injury lawsuits for plumbers and pipefitters who were diagnosed with mesothelioma caused by their work. An ex-Union Carbide worker won $2.2 million in economic damages and millions in other damages after a jury concluded the company had exposed him to asbestos for years.
Celotex Corp., GAF Corp., Union Carbide, Johns Manville, Pacor Inc., Owens-Illinois Co., Garlock, Inc., Kentile Floors, Certainteed Products Corp., Fibreboard Corp/Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., Pittsburgh Corning Corp., Eagle-Picher Industries, Inc., Keene Corp., and Kaiser Gypsum Co. have been sued in civil court for exposing plumbers and pipefitters to asbestos.