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Asbestos in older car parts

By Curt Autry - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Millions of brakes on cars and trucks, and millions more brake pads waiting on store shelves, contain asbestos fibers that can kill auto mechanics. And whether you fix cars for a living, or just tinker on your own hot-rod, you could be at risk for asbestos related cancers. 

Every once and a while you'll still see them on the road. The junkyards however, are full of them. Cars that still have parts with a dangerous carcinogen: asbestos, in particular, asbestos brake pads. 

The bulk of foreign and domestic vehicles in the 70's & 80's had asbestos fibers in them somewhere. GM was still using asbestos brake pads as late as the mid-90's on both the 1994 Pontiac Sunbird, and the 1995 Pontiac Sunfire. 

When this 1972 Triumph Spitfire came off the assembly line in Coventry, England it had brake pads made from asbestos, and a clutch disc, made from asbestos. All the replacement parts should be asbestos free, but that's not always the case.

The Sports Car Workshops on the Boulevard in Richmond is one of the premiere sports car restoration businesses in the state. On any given day in this garage you'll find vintage Jaguars, Ferrari's, Rolls Royce, and just about any 60's era British or Italian sports car you can think of.  

The trained professionals here know the proper techniques for washing down old asbestos parts - so asbestos fibers don't become airborne...but 20 years ago most mechanics didn't know any better. 

"Mechanics who were mostly working on old fashioned, drum brake cars, they would take this off, they'd get an air hose to blow it all out - and there'd be a big cloud of asbestos dust," said Ken Knehr with Sports Car Workshops.

And that dust would collect in their lungs. Contact with asbestos is the number one cause of mesothelioma. Richmond Oncologist, Dr. Sherman Baker, isn't that concerned about professional mechanics - he says it's the guys who tinker with their hot-rods. 

"The group that might be at risk is the people who work on cars in their own garage - because they would not have the equipment or maybe not even be aware that asbestos is still in clutches, gaskets, also in the hood of the car, and brakes," said Dr. Baker. 

The EPA advises that "do-it-your-selfers" avoid cleaning brakes with compressed air, because asbestos dust may be released into the air. 

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