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Asbestos Risks From Brakes Reaffirmed


Two independent events last week shored up the fact that asbestos-containing brakes pose a health hazard to workers. For years, asbestos makers and distributors have falsely claimed in court that the asbestos fibers contained in the brakes pose no danger to mechanics or other workers exposed to the airborne fibers. Asbestos has been proven to cause mesothelioma when inhaled. If products containing asbestos such as brakes are machined, ground down, or otherwise worked, the asbestos fibers can be released into the air. Over time this can result in mesothelioma.
The EPA has released a new pamphlet educating mechanics about how to minimize their asbestos exposure from automobile components such as brakes and clutches, plainly contradicting the courtroom assertions of asbestos defendants that the fibers are harmless. "Current Best Practices for Preventing Asbestos Exposure among Brake and Clutch Repair Workers" provides health and safety information for professional and do-it-yourself mechanics and emphasizes the need to prevent asbestos fibers from escaping into the air during repair work.

The brochure advises that mechanics should assume the possible presence of asbestos, as it could be impossible to tell if clutch and brake components contain asbestos. It also emphasizes the warning against blowing dust from brakes and clutches with compressed air and details three recognized methods for containing asbestos dust in a professional automotive shop. The booklet provides guidelines for home mechanics which include using pre-ground, ready-to-install parts and not taking work clothing inside the house to prevent exposing family members to asbestos dust.

The information on best practices for preventing asbestos exposure for mechanics is online at

More damaging to the auto industry's false claims about benign asbestos exposures from car brakes, however, was a recent New York County Supreme Court ruling that training manuals from Ford Co. and other defendants could be used at trial as admissions that asbestos-containing brakes are hazardous and can cause cancer. This ruling, in CARLOS CEPEDA v. AC&S, INC., et al., references training manuals that specifically contradict Ford's courtroom posture that asbestos-containing brakes are safe.

Before the ruling, Ford tried to keep its training manuals away from the jury because the warnings spoke specifically about the dangers of exposure to asbestoses containing brakes and asbestos-containing brake parts. Ford rightly feared that the jury would see through its courtroom shenanigans and hold that if the brakes were dangerous out of court, they were dangerous in court as well.

Ford sought to exclude the incriminating evidence by claiming that that the warnings were involuntarily included to meet the requirements of the Occupation Safety and Health Administration. Ford then went on to contradict its own assertion as the judge pointed out that Ford disseminated its training materials to the public at large, whereas the OSHA requirements were only applicable to the employer-employee setting. The judge also noted that Ford claim of an involuntary warning was contradicted by the fact that Ford's warning actually exceeded the OSHA requirements, strong proof that the warnings weren't inserted simply out of duress, but because the brakes were in fact dangerous.

In the manuals, whenever Ford addresses asbestos in brakes, it warns of the asbestos hazards to health and often warns that asbestos from brakes can cause diseases including cancer.