Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure for Machinists

People who operated machinery during the 20th century were regularly exposed to asbestos, which is a cancerous mineral connected to mesothelioma and lung cancer. Asbestos, which is an insulant, was added to machinery to prevent overheating and fires.

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 Machinists

  • During the 20th century, asbestos was part of plenty of machinery to protect from overheating and fires. Machinists would be exposed to asbestos through the grinding of the machine’s parts.
  • Mesothelioma among machinists is common. One study found 89 cases, one of the highest among the occupations examined.
  • Machinists who worked in the railroad industry during the 20th century were especially at-risk of exposure to asbestos.

Importance of Machinery in American Industrialism

Industrialism is a social or economic system built on manufacturing industries. American manufacturing industries boomed during significant war periods in the late 19th and 20th centuries. World War II was a turning point for American manufacturing. The demand for military defense weapons, vehicles, uniforms and basic public necessities was more than the supply. This is when manufacturing industries turned to machinery to help the efficiency of certain industrial processes. 

For instance, consider the procedures for nearly any American industry — manufacturing, mining, construction and others — and you’ll see operating machinery is a common theme in all of them. This technology, and the machinists who operated them, were just as prevalent in these industries as asbestos.

Numerous scientific sources and studies point to machinists as a job occupation often linked to exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral capable of preventing overheating and fires.

How Machinists Were Exposed to Asbestos

Machinists operate, maintain, repair and assemble various types of machines, including hand tools or automatic machinery. These machines are used to create or modify manufacturing parts made of metal, plastic or wood. 

When operating the machines, the parts grind together. Asbestos is delicate and can easily break apart, releasing sharp fibers into the air. Machinists likely worked in a cloud of dust, unknowingly breathing in or swallowing loose fibers.

Machinists were also exposed in other ways. First, if they were using a machine on a manufacturing part that included asbestos — such as a gasket — then they were likely cutting and grinding it into the perfect shape. Both actions could release asbestos into the air, putting the machinist and anyone in close proximity in danger.

Machinists would also cut new gaskets to fit the flange size. When removing the old gasket, it would often be stuck in the flange, so they would grind it out or more often use a wire brush to scrape out the old gaskets. Both acts could lead to asbestos exposure.

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A nation wide list of sites where you or a loved one may have come in contact with asbestos.

Mesothelioma Among Machinists

The presence of asbestos in blue-collar industries for most of the 20th century put millions of American workers at risk of developing mesothelioma. This rare cancer is diagnosed in 2,500 people in the U.S. each year. It forms in the lining of the lungs and abdomen, and the tumors can spread to nearby organs quickly. The average survival time for patients is one year.

Georgetown University and Duke University experts found 89 reported mesothelioma cases among machinists. This number was near the top of the list among at-risk occupations.

Machinists were part of many industries, including construction of railroads during a boom of industrialism in the 20th century.

The American Journal of Industrial Medicine published data regarding cancer-related deaths for members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The data focused on people working as machinists in the railroad industry. The publication reported 42 mesothelioma cases among former railroad machinists.

The risk was present for machinists in other industries, too. The researchers found 16 additional reported cases of mesothelioma.

Help for Machinists With Mesothelioma

If you worked as a machinist and have the rare cancer mesothelioma, please contact our staff. We can help you find state-of-the-art treatment for your cancer, along with options for financial assistance.

Please email our patient advocate and registered nurse, Karen Ritter, at karen@mesotheliomaguide.com. If you worked as a machinist in the military, email our retired Navy LCDR Carl Jewett at cjewett@mesotheliomaguide.com.

Sources & Author

  1. Mesothelioma among machinists in railroad and other industries. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6869375/. Accessed: 09/03/2020.
  2. Malignant Mesothelioma and Occupational Exposure to Asbestos: an Analysis of 1445 Cases. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12036093/. Accessed: 08/11/2020.
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.