Asbestos Exposure in the Iron Industry
Iron workers were exposed to asbestos in many different ways while performing their jobs. For example, metal girders, used in the majority of construction projects as frameworks for buildings, contained asbestos. When the girders were pierced with rivets, banged together or sanded down for fitting applications, they released asbestos fibers into the air.
More lethal than metal girders was the asbestos paint normally sprayed on iron beams to increase their melt-resistance temperature. This protective technique for the girders was a routine practice through the 1970s, before the dangers of asbestos were fully understood. Asbestos paint was not only inhaled by the painters, but other iron workers as well because winds on the construction site often carried the fumes of asbestos paint far from the original spray site.
Lastly, iron workers wore protective clothing, including gloves, aprons, pants and vests, made from asbestos. Once these vestments began to fray and wear down, asbestos fibers were released into the air and inhaled by unknowing iron workers. The fibers also lodged in their clothing and could have later been inhaled by others with whom they shared their living spaces.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are approximately 58,100 iron and steel workers in the United States today. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other government laws have put a limit on the amount of asbestos used in workplaces, and new precautions and practices prevent the exposure of asbestos in many cases. However, there are many older buildings, boilers, ships, heating and insulation systems still in operation that were constructed before the dangers of asbestos were fully understood. Men and women in the remodeling and retro-fitting trades need to exercise extreme caution when working with these older constructions and systems if they want to avoid asbestos exposure.