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Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure for Electrical Workers

Asbestos was a durable material added as an insulant around electrical wires to protect them from fire damage. Electrical workers, or electricians, are one of the most at-risk occupations for asbestos exposure and developing mesothelioma cancer.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent

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Important Facts About Asbestos Exposure for Electricians

  • Asbestos was an insulant around wiring, control boards, electrical boxes and more to prevent electrical fires in homes, office buildings and manufacturing plants.
  • In a study of more than 1,400 cases of mesothelioma, electricians were in the top 10 occupations linked to the cancer.
  • Legacy asbestos exposure remains a concern for electricians due to decaying asbestos around electrical wiring in old homes.

Overview of Asbestos Risks in Electrical Work

For decades, asbestos was considered a magic mineral. Why? The answer is simple: Asbestos can prevent fires.

Asbestos can also cause the rare cancer mesothelioma, which is why electrical workers are an occupation often connected to the rare cancer. There are an estimated 2,500 cases of mesothelioma in the U.S. each year. Most of them are linked to exposure through a person’s job, such as being an electrician, or performing at-home home repairs involving electrical wiring. This is called occupational asbestos exposure.

Despite knowing these asbestos risks in electrical work and other occupations, manufacturing companies continued producing and selling the mineral, a reckless decision made to preserve their profits. The health of many electrical workers, among other occupations, suffered due to this greed.

Why Did Electrical Work Involve Asbestos?

According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, there are approximately 51,000 home electrical fires 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 these fires start, though? Electrical fires can originate in frayed wiring, cables, circuit breakers and other components.

To prevent these fires, companies involved in the construction of houses, office buildings and more used asbestos around these flammable electrical parts. This substance was easy and cheap to produce through most of the 20th century.

The use of asbestos in electrical work was plentiful. Electricians during the 20th century — before people learned asbestos was dangerous — used any opportunity to protect wires or switchboards from catching fire. 

Asbestos risks in electrical work include the mineral being used to protect:

  • Electrical wiring
  • Control boards
  • Panels
  • Electrical boxes
  • Explosion-proof compounds in large plants
  • Switch gears on boards, panels and boxes

The result was hundreds, maybe even thousands, of electrical workers developing mesothelioma, and these hard-working Americans should know how their occupation led to them this disease.

Legacy Asbestos Exposure for Electricians

Toward the end of the 20th century, the general public learned asbestos could be cancerous. Despite the significant drop in asbestos use for new construction projects, electrical workers remain 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 exposure to asbestos by interacting with loose fibers. Another example is completely removing electrical wiring prior to the demolition of a building.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure From Electricians

Asbestos exposure is not just a risk for those who work directly with the toxic material. Exposure to asbestos is also a risk for people who have loved ones working with asbestos. 

Since electricians often work in enclosed spaces with asbestos, they can accumulate loose fibers on their clothes, skin or hair. Once this happens, they can carry asbestos dust into their homes or vehicles, putting their family and friends at risk.

There have been many reported cases of wives, daughters, sons and even grandchildren developing mesothelioma without working in any at-risk occupations. They all can trace their cancer back to their spouse, parent or grandparent working a job involving asbestos. This is called secondary asbestos exposure.

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Connecting Mesothelioma and Electrical Workers

Disturbed asbestos fibers flake apart into tiny, microscopic fibers that can be easily inhaled or ingested. Once the asbestos 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 in these linings, which is how mesothelioma forms.

Researchers at Georgetown University and Duke University reviewed 1,445 cases of mesothelioma from occupational asbestos exposure. Electricians accounted for 81 cases, in the top 10 of the most at-risk occupations in the United States.

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.”

Legal Rights for Electrical Workers With Mesothelioma

Treatment options are available to electrical workers who have mesothelioma. Surgery is the most aggressive approach and often leads to the most extended survival times. Chemotherapy and immunotherapy have also had positive effects on mesothelioma 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 by filing a legal claim.

As previously mentioned, occupational asbestos exposure was caused by greedy corporations who selfishly chose profits over public safety. There have been multiple cases of electrical workers taking legal action following their mesothelioma diagnosis. A 64-year-old electrician and construction inspector from New York received $2.1 million in their case.

Another example of a mesothelioma lawsuit 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 karen@mesotheliomaguide.com or cjewett@mesotheliomaguide.com for legal or medical advice following your diagnosis.

Sources & Author

  1. How Does an Electrical Fire Start? Firetrace International. Retrieved from: https://www.firetrace.com/fire-protection-blog/how-does-an-electrical-fire-start. Accessed: 12/16/19.
  2. Malignant Mesothelioma and Occupational Exposure to Asbestos: an Analysis of 1445 Cases. British Occupational Hygiene Society. Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/annweh/article/46/suppl_1/150/317508. Accessed: 08/11/20.
  3. Home Electrical Fires. Electrical Safety Foundation International. Retrieved from: https://www.esfi.org/resource/home-electrical-fires-184. Accessed: 12/16/19.
  4. Statistics. U.S. Fire Administration. Retrieved from: https://www.usfa.fema.gov/statistics/. Accessed: 06/06/23.
  5. Malignant mesothelioma in construction workers: the Apulia regional mesothelioma register, Southern Italy. BMC Research Notes. Retrieved from: https://bmcresnotes.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13104-019-4675-4. Accessed: 12/16/19.
  6. Electricians’ chrysotile asbestos exposure from electrical products and risks of mesothelioma and lung cancer. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24189076. Accessed: 12/16/19.
  7. Safe Electrical Demolition And Circuit Removal. Art Plumbing, AC and Electric. Retrieved from: https://www.artplumbingandac.com/electrical/safe-electrical-demolition-and-circuit-removal/. Accessed: 12/16/19.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.