EPA Issues New Guide to Reducing Asbestos Exposure Among Auto Mechanics

Best Practices Help Limit, But Not Prevent, Asbestos Exposure During Brake Repair

WASHINGTON, DC - May 11, 2007 - Last month the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the long-awaited brochure for auto mechanics entitled "Current Best Practices for Preventing Asbestos Exposure Among Brake and Clutch Repair Workers." These guidelines replace the "gold book," a similar pamphlet about asbestos exposure created in 1986 that went out of print and became unavailable for several years.

Since many auto mechanics do not know about asbestos in brakes, distributing the new brochure to auto repair shops may help educate both employees and employers about safe work practices and limit the potential of asbestos diseases in mechanics.

Assume that All Brakes Contain Asbestos

Brakes and clutches in older cars often contain asbestos. Replacement brakes may also contain asbestos. Taking off a brake disk, drum or clutch cover can release asbestos dust and fibers, which can be inhaled. Using compressed air or a brush to clean brake assemblies allows even more asbestos to become airborne.

Unfortunately, you cannot tell whether brakes or clutches contain asbestos merely by looking at them, according to both the old and new asbestos brochures. Auto mechanics should assume that all brakes and clutches have asbestos and take appropriate precautions. For auto repair shops that perform work on more than five brake or clutch jobs per week, government regulations require the use of these methods or equivalent methods to reduce asbestos exposure:

  • Negative-Pressure Enclosure/HEPA Vacuum System: Includes a HEPA-filtered vacuum and a transparent enclosure that fits around the brake or clutch assembly. HEPA is short for High Efficiency Particulate Air, and this filter is designed to remove 99% of particles three-tenths of a micron or larger.
  • Low Pressure/Wet Cleaning Method: Low-pressure spray equipment used to wet down the brake assembly. The runoff is caught in a basin to prevent the spread of airborne dust.

The new brochure adds a note reminding auto repair shops to dispose of asbestos waste properly. Asbestos brake and clutch dust must be placed in sealed, impermeable containers, which must be labeled.

Asbestos Brake Dangers for Do-It-Yourselfers

The guide is also directed towards do-it-yourself enthusiasts who work on asbestos-containing brakes and clutches. The typical home auto mechanic may not have the equipment found in commercial auto shops. When this is the case, the brochure recommends use of the "wet wipe method" for brake and clutch work. This entails using a spray bottle to wet the brakes or clutch under low pressure. The brakes are then wiped clean. Waste, including the rags, should be double-bagged before disposal.

Home auto mechanics are advised not to use compressed air for cleaning, since it blows asbestos dust into the air. They should also favor pre-ground ready-to-install parts and change into clean clothes after working on the car in order to avoid exposing family members to asbestos dust.

The EPA web site includes the complete brochure about asbestos in brakes and clutches. The regulation governing asbestos exposure and auto mechanics, 29 CFR 1910.1001(f)(3), is on the web site of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA.