A new report seeks to put an end to the debate over whether or not asbestos-containing brake dust has the potential to cause mesothelioma cancer.
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral used in manufacturing and linked to mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other serious illnesses. The debate over the risk posed by its presence in brake dust has gone on for years. While asbestos brake linings were largely phased out after the arrival of front-wheel drive vehicles in the 1980s, industry experts say they are still sometimes used in higher-end vehicles and are available for aftermarket sale.
The question is not whether or not some linings – past or present – contain asbestos, but whether or not that asbestos is sufficient to trigger mesothelioma in brake workers. The process of removing crumbling asbestos pads can release millions of microscopic asbestos fibers into the air. Grinding, scraping, or blowing the parts with compressed air can spread even more of the dust. Brake manufacturers contend that the evidence is insufficient to link this brake dust with mesothelioma. But the authors of “Assessing specific causation of mesothelioma following exposure to chrysotile asbestos-containing brake dust” in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health say their analysis refutes that.
After analyzing the various industry and academic perspectives on the question of brake dust and mesothelioma using what they call “the principles of forensic epidemiology”, the authors conclude that “there is a ‘net’ of evidence favoring a causal relationship between brake dust-associated chrysotile exposure and mesothelioma”. They say the brake industry’s contention that there is no “chain of causation” is simply inaccurate and they suggest that attorneys representing brake workers with mesothelioma take what they call a “semiquantitative approach”, looking closely at the quantity of exposure to determine individual causation.
Despite the brake industry’s argument against a brake dust/mesothelioma link, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommend that auto mechanics wear negative pressure respirators and use vacuums fitted with HEPA filters when working with brakes.
Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk, National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet, website accessed January 17, 2011.