For decades, asbestos was considered a magic mineral. Why? The answer is simple: Asbestos can prevent fires. This benefited many industries, from construction work to plumbing and pipefitting.
It also helped protect electrical wires, which are one of the most vulnerable parts of a building to fire or heat damage and can even be the source of deadly, home-destroying fires.
Asbestos has another notoriety besides preventing fires: The mineral can cause mesothelioma, a deadly and rare cancer that is difficult to diagnose and even tougher to treat before it spreads beyond control.
Asbestos’ prevalence and notoriety as an added, protective element to electrical wires is why electrical workers are an occupation often connected to the rare cancer.
How Asbestos Was Used in Electrical Work
There are many components of this occupation at a heightened risk of fires, and electrical workers relied on asbestos and were exposed regularly to this deadly mineral. The uses in electrical work were plentiful:
- Electrical wiring was insulated with asbestos to prevent fires.
- Electrical control boards, panels and boxes were built with asbestos.
- Switch gears on the boards, panels and boxes included the mineral.
- Explosion-proof compounds in large plants were made with asbestos to contain electrical fires.
The result was hundreds, maybe even thousands, of electrical workers developing mesothelioma, and these hard-working Americans should know how their occupation led to this disease.
Why Did Electrical Work Involve Asbestos?
According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, around 51,000 home electrical fires occur each year. These incidents result in approximately 500 deaths and 1,400 injuries. At commercial buildings, the United States Fire Administration reports 8,200 electrical fires each year.
How do they start, though? Well, electrical fires can originate in wiring, cables, circuit breakers and other components.
To prevent these fires, companies involved in construction used asbestos around these flammable electrical parts. This substance was easy and cheap to produce through most of the 20th century.
Construction and insulation companies didn’t know of the health risks — that loose asbestos fibers could enter the human body and cause cancer. They simply wanted to prevent fires and protect people.
However, the asbestos manufacturing companies did know of the hazards — and many knew for decades. They knew that if this mineral loosened, tiny fibers would enter the air and could be inhaled or ingested. Once this dust enters the body, it can travel to the thin linings around the lung cavity, abdominal cavity or heart. The fibers are sharp and can irritate the cells residing in these linings, which is how mesothelioma forms.
Despite knowing these risks, manufacturing companies continued producing and selling the mineral, a decision made to preserve their profits. The health of many electrical workers, among other occupations, suffered due to this greed.
Electrical Workers and Mesothelioma
There are numerous ways electrical workers can interact with asbestos. During the 20th century, they often worked on new construction projects that involved installing asbestos into homes or commercial buildings. An article published on the website BMC Research Notes lists electricians as an occupation indirectly exposed to asbestos due to being “on-site during insulation activities.”
Toward the end of the 20th century, the general public learned asbestos was cancerous. Despite the drop in using the mineral for new construction projects, electrical workers remained at risk.
Any jobs involving maintenance or repair of electrical wiring or other components put electricians in harm’s way. As an example, replacing old wires or cables in a building could lead to them interacting with loose fibers. Another example is completely removing electrical wiring prior to the demolition of a building.
A study published by the Regulatory, Toxicology and Pharmacology reviewed the connection between mesothelioma and electrical workers. The report found that it’s due to “renovation/demolition work or working in the proximity of other skilled craftsmen.”
Rates of Electricians and Mesothelioma
Researchers at Duke University and Georgetown analyzed 1,445 cases of mesothelioma. All of them were linked to occupational asbestos exposure.
There were 81 cases of former electricians with mesothelioma. The connection makes sense due to asbestos in electrical work and the fact asbestos is the only cause of mesothelioma cancer.
Electricians during the 20th century — before people learned asbestos was dangerous — used any opportunity to protect wires or switch boards from catching fire. Asbestos was an insulant around:
- Electrical wiring
- Control boards
- Switch gears
Legal Rights for Electrical Workers With Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma treatment options are available to electrical workers who have this deadly cancer. Surgery is the most aggressive approach and often leads to the most extended survival times. Chemotherapy and radiation can also help patients.
However, these treatments can be expensive, often costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. One way to counter the rising costs of mesothelioma treatment is through legal claims.
There have been multiple cases of electrical workers taking legal action following their diagnosis. A 64-year-old electrician and construction inspector from New York received $2.1 million in their case. Another example is a 70-year-old Navy veteran and electrician from Florida. He received $1.67 million.
If you are or were an electrical worker and developed mesothelioma, then you can take legal action. Our patient advocates, Karen Ritter and Carl Jewett, have helped many patients find legal representation for their case. Email either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for advice following your diagnosis.
Sources & Author
- Malignant Mesothelioma and Occupational Exposure to Asbestos: an Analysis of 1445 Cases. British Occupational Hygiene Society. Retrieved from: https://watermark.silverchair.com/46-suppl_1-150.pdf. Accessed: 08/11/2020.
Sources & Author