Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure for Plumbers and Pipefitters

For nearly an entire century, asbestos was overused for anything and everything related to construction and maintenance, which put plumbers and pipefitters at risk. Anyone who worked in these occupations was likely exposed to this deadly substance and could be at risk for developing mesothelioma or other types of asbestos disease.

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 Plumbers and Pipefitters

  • Plumbers and pipefitters, two of the most common trades in the United States, are included in the high-risk occupational asbestos exposure category.
  • Mesothelioma is common among plumbers and pipefitters. According to a study, the most common type among this profession is pleural mesothelioma.
  • Asbestos can cause lung cancer, which is also a risk for plumbers and pipefitters.

Asbestos Health Risks for Plumbers and Pipefitters

During its peak, asbestos was considered a “magic mineral” and repeatedly touted for its benefits. The general public assumed it was not harmful because they had no reason to believe otherwise. Plumbers and pipefitters, who were regularly exposed to asbestos in their work environment, also believed the mineral was safe as they were not provided with safety guidelines or protective equipment when in the presence of asbestos. 

Inevitably, the health risks associated with asbestos came to light: It is the only known cause of mesothelioma and can lead to other serious health problems. The Environmental Protection Agency in 2024 banned the use of chrysotile asbestos, which is the most common form of the mineral and the most likely that plumbers were exposed to.

Despite the ban, a health crisis had started. The overuse of asbestos in the 20th century has led to countless plumbers and pipefitters being diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases.

Asbestos Exposure in Plumbing Systems and Pipefitting

There were many components to asbestos exposure in plumbing systems and pipefitting. As previously stated, asbestos was used in nearly every aspect of construction – from buildings to ships and cars. The “magic mineral” was durable and could prevent early decay.

Asbestos has many appealing qualities. It’s inexpensive but it’s also resistant to fire, heat and water. Therefore, it could shield nearly all building components from these potentially harmful elements. This is why pipes were wrapped in asbestos insulation.

Asbestos exposure in plumbing systems and pipefitting is due to asbestos in many elements, such as:

  • Floor and ceiling tiles
  • Insulation
  • Electric wiring and sockets
  • Pipe cement
  • Shingles
  • Siding
  • Drywall
  • Joint compound
  • Ordinary household appliances (toasters, ovens, mitts and more)

All of these building components could contribute to asbestos in plumbing and the risk it poses for plumbers and pipefitters.

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How Plumbers and Pipefitters Were Exposed to Asbestos

Asbestos is present in homes, offices, entertainment venues, schools and more. It’s built into the walls, sealed in the floors, covered by the ceilings and more. There’s a long list of asbestos-contaminated materials — and an even longer list of trades affected by occupational asbestos exposure.

Plumbers and pipefitters are considered to be jobs at high-risk of occupational asbestos exposure. While both occupations have a significant risk, they do perform different jobs and can be exposed to material in various ways.

Plumbers install and repair pipes, which includes unclogging pipes, repairing water heaters, and installing and repairing toilets. Pipefitters handle pipes designed to collaborate with high-pressure materials, such as chemicals, acids or steam.

To reach these pipes, plumbers and pipefitters often handled or removed asbestos-containing components and unknowingly sent toxic asbestos fibers into the air by:

  • Tearing down walls or ripping up flooring to assess an issue
  • Maneuvering through electrical wiring
  • Working near or with insulation

Plumbers’ and pipefitters’ highest levels of asbestos exposure came from their removing old gaskets and then cutting and installing new gaskets. Asbestos insulation was also used to cover pipes, on the exterior around pipes. Plumbers and pipefitters often had to remove in-place asbestos pipe covering to get to a pipe flange to replace a gasket and then sometimes replace the insulation.

When installing or repairing pipes, the plumber or pipefitter likely handled asbestos compounds or disturbed asbestos used during installation or a previous repair. 

If you handled building parts that included asbestos, brushed against them, in any way disturbed them, or were around other workers who did, then you may have released asbestos dust into the air around you. When these needle-like fibers break from the source, they become airborne and are prone to enter your body.

Impact of Asbestos in Plumbing on Workforce

Asbestos in plumbing materials and components has led to severe health risks for anyone in this field. Plumbers and pipefitters are at high-risk for developing asbestos diseases. There are many types of cancer and other severe health issues caused by exposure to asbestos. 

Numerous studies have either focused on plumbers developing mesothelioma or discussed the risks associated with the profession.

One study examined asbestos-related diseases in 153 plumbers and pipefitters who worked in construction. Researchers found that thickening on either side of the pleural space was a common occurrence among the group. This effect, which is a common symptom of pleural mesothelioma, accounted for 18% of the plumbers and pipefitters in the study.

Pleural mesothelioma, the most common type of mesothelioma, forms in the thin membrane between the lungs and chest wall called the pleura. The pleura consists of two sides, or tissue walls made up of cells. When pleural mesothelioma forms, a common side effect is thickening along one or both of the pleural cavity walls. 

This study is not the only scientific research connecting plumbing and pipefitting to mesothelioma:

  • Another study, conducted in Italy, showed how the wife of a plumber developed mesothelioma through secondhand asbestos exposure.
  • A different study that showed a woman had mesothelioma after being married to a shipyard plumber.
  • A British study revealed that the asbestos exposure risk for plumbers and pipefitters was equal to that of electrical workers

Aside from mesothelioma, there are many other health risks associated with plumbers and asbestos. One of the most common is lung cancer. Just as asbestos fibers enter the body and become lodged in the chest cavity and develop into mesothelioma, they can cause malignancies in the lungs as well.

Asbestos Compensation for Plumbers and Pipefitters 

Fortunately, victims of asbestos exposure have a legal right to file claims against the companies responsible for manufacturing asbestos and asbestos-containing materials. MesotheliomaGuide can connect you with experienced mesothelioma lawyers to handle your claim.

Typically, mesothelioma claims result in settlements or payouts from asbestos trust funds. Occasionally, mesothelioma lawsuits will go to trial and hopefully result in a favorable verdict for the victim.

Former for Pipefitter Receives $36.7 Million Mesothelioma Verdict 

In 2021, a Louisiana court issued a $36.7 million verdict to a mesothelioma victim. The lawsuit was against Level 3 Holdings, Inc., and the victim was a former welder and pipefitter, two occupations linked to regular asbestos exposure.

Louisiana is considered a favorable state for victims of asbestos exposure. Many multi-million-dollar verdicts have emerged from courts in this state.

If you currently work or used to work as a plumber or pipefitter and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, there is probably a link between the two. Connect with our patient advocates. They can help 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. Asbestos-Related Disease in Plumbers and Pipefitters Employed in Building Construction. Mesothelioma Research Foundation of America. Retrieved from: http://mesorfa.org/about-meso/article12b.php. Accessed: 01/11/2023.
  2. Plumbers, Pipefitters and the Difference Between Them. HomeAdvisor. Retrieved from: https://www.homeadvisor.com/r/plumbers-versus-pipefitters/. Accessed: 01/11/2023.
  3. Domestic Asbestos Exposure: A Review of Epidemiologic and Exposure Data. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3863863/. Accessed: 01/11/2023.
  4. Occupational, domestic and environmental mesothelioma risks in the British population: a case–control study. British Journal of Cancer. Retrieved from: https://www.nature.com/articles/6604879. Accessed: 01/11/2023.
  5. Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/plumbers-pipefitters-and-steamfitters.htm. Accessed: 01/11/2023.
  6. Bulletin of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Google Books. Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=8F8vaw0UcIcC&pg=RA1-PA48&lpg=RA1-PA48&dq=how+many+pipefitters+in+the+us+in+1980&source=bl&ots=wUmhcwWiZI&sig=ACfU3U0Osy-IZeAMVFRgLVWdKubsPjhzPg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiv0JGig5_oAhVPTd8KHf1sC3IQ6AEwCnoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=how%20many%20pipefitters%20in%20the%20us%20in%201980&f=false. Accessed: 01/11/2023.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is the senior 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.