Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure for HVAC Workers

People who work with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning – also called HVAC workers, HVAC mechanics, or HVAC technicians – are at risk of occupational asbestos exposure. HVAC equipment often contained asbestos to resist heat and prevent damage.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent


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Important Facts About Asbestos Exposure for HVAC Workers

  • HVAC workers install, repair, or replace heating, cooling and ventilation in homes, schools, offices, hospitals and every other possible building where people spend time.
  • HVAC equipment and parts potentially containing asbestos include insulation, gaskets, heat shields, casings, flexible duct connectors, and cooling towers. Asbestos in HVAC ducts and insulation is a primary concern.
  • According to a report, HVAC workers are four times more likely than the general population to develop an asbestos disease called asbestosis.

Statistics About HVAC Workers

HVAC mechanics, technicians and installers work on heating, ventilation and cooling systems in homes, schools, hospitals, factories, office buildings and more. Sometimes HVAC workers are referred to as HVACR workers to include refrigeration mechanics and installers.

The worksites are often very hot or cold due to heating and cooling systems not working properly, or they are not yet installed. Some of the systems might be located outdoors. HVAC technicians and installers often work in cramped spaces within buildings.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were nearly 400,000 HVACR mechanics and installers in the country as of 2021.

Due to the range of temperatures in HVAC systems, they often required insulation materials. Asbestos was often the insulation material of choice, which means countless HVAC workers are at risk of occupational asbestos exposure.

Asbestos and Cancer

Asbestos is a natural mineral that forms in the earth’s soil. It was cherished for its durability and resistance to heat, so many industries acquired, manufactured, and used asbestos to build buildings, automobiles, military ships, airplanes, and more. Up until the 1980s, asbestos was advertised as a magic mineral.

Asbestos is also a cancerous substance and the only known cause of the rare and aggressive cancer called mesothelioma. Asbestos is durable and reasonably safe when it’s compact and whole. However, the mineral is made of countless fibers, almost like strands of fabric or wool. These fibers can splinter and break apart, which leads to weightless fibers contaminating the air we breathe.

Workers who install, repair, or replace asbestos-containing products – or who inadvertently disturb asbestos during other work – can release fibers into the air and swallow or inhale them. The fibers can travel to and get stuck in the thin linings around the lungs, abdominal cavity and heart. These linings, made of mesothelial cells, are where mesothelioma tumors form.

These dangers became public knowledge towards the end of the 20th century, and many victims of asbestos exposure and asbestos diseases filed lawsuits against the companies responsible for manufacturing and selling asbestos products for industrial use. This led to companies finding alternatives, the implementation of government regulations on the use of asbestos, and ultimately the phasing out of asbestos in most jobs.

The Environmental Protection Agency in March 2024 banned ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos. The ruling prevents companies from importing, manufacturing, distributing, selling, and using the mineral. Chrysotile asbestos is the most common of the six types of asbestos, the type most often associated with mesothelioma cancer cases, and the type most often used to insulate HVAC products.

The ban should prevent companies from returning to using asbestos now and in the future. However, past uses of asbestos can be found in old HVAC equipment. The presence of asbestos installed years ago is the primary source of HVAC workers today being exposed to the substance.

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Asbestos in HVAC Products

There are thousands of products known to contain asbestos. In fact, the Minnesota Department of Health specifies there are more than 3,000 products potentially containing the deadly mineral. Examples include asbestos in HVAC ducts and insulation.

The heating and cooling system products that can contain asbestos include:

  • Boiler insulation
  • Boiler breeching insulation
  • Cooling towers
  • Ductwork insulation
  • Furnace insulation
  • Gaskets
  • Heat shields
  • HVAC vibration dampeners
  • Flexible duct connectors
  • Pipe lagging insulation
  • Pipe elbow insulation
  • Tank insulation
  • Tank casings
  • Thermal taping compounds

HVAC asbestos risks were also present on military ships and in military housing. An investigation in 2020 found severe issues of asbestos in family military housing. Mesothelioma Guide’s Veterans Service Representative and veterans mesothelioma patient advocate, Carl Jewett, a military veteran and 24-year Navy Lieutenant Commander, can affirm from his experience that asbestos was rampant in military buildings. He even mentions HVAC equipment.

“I can remember military buildings that had asbestos in the floor tiles, drywall, HVAC room and even caulk around the windows,” he said.

Risk of Asbestos Exposure for HVAC Workers

According to the site, EC Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine data shows HVAC mechanics “are over four times more likely to have asbestos-related health problems” than the general population. Asbestos is linked to several health conditions, such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer and ovarian cancer.

Asbestosis is characterized by lung tissue scarring. The risk of mesothelioma and lung cancer is also higher than usual for HVAC workers.

UGI Heating, Cooling & Plumbing, a HVAC company, details on its website what process the HVAC technicians and mechanics now take to keep themselves and the residents – or customers – safe from asbestos exposure.

When asbestos is found in HVAC products, it could lead to replacing all ventilation ducts or replacing just the central air handling unit with connections to the ducts. The company states it hires “certified asbestos removal professionals with proper equipment” to handle the mineral safely.

The company warns homeowners from trying to remove asbestos themselves in a do-it-yourself project.

Asbestos Lawsuits for HVAC Workers

Asbestos lawsuits have been filed by former HVAC workers. One example involves a steamfitter who installed HVAC equipment and later developed mesothelioma.

According to the website Leagle, the plaintiff, William B., won the verdict against Wallace & Gale Co. He worked for the defendant company during the construction of Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland. He installed HVAC equipment and was exposed to asbestos-containing insulation products during the construction work.

William B. worked on construction projects throughout his career, including the construction of Mercy Hospital, a building at the Edgewood Arsenal, the Mercantile Bank & Trust Building in downtown Baltimore, the BlueCross/BlueShield building in Towson, the USF&G Building (now the Transamerica Building) in downtown Baltimore, and residential projects.

How We Can Help HVAC Workers Exposed to Asbestos

Mesothelioma Guide has a team of experts who can connect you with mesothelioma specialists and treatment centers If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, contact our team to discuss your medical and legal options.

Our patient advocates are available to answer any questions regarding your asbestos exposure and its effects on your health. Contact Carl Jewett, our VA-Accreditted Claims Agent or Karen Ritter, our registered nurse. Both have helped many mesothelioma victims get answers to their questions.

Sources & Author

  1. Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm. Accessed: 06/29/2023.
  2. Common Asbestos-Containing Products. Minnesota Department of Health. Retrieved from: https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/asbestos/products.html. Accessed: 06/29/2023.
  3. What Happens if We Find Asbestos on the Job? UGI Heating, Cooling & Plumbing. Retrieved from: https://www.ugihvac.com/en-us/what-happens-if-we-find-asbestos-on-the-job/. Accessed: 06/29/2023.
  4. Wallace & Gale Asbestos Settlement Trust v. Busch. Leagle. Retrieved from: https://www.leagle.com/decision/inmdco20180810335. Accessed: 06/29/2023.
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.