EPA Warnings for Auto Mechanics Challenged

Gold Book Provides Asbestos Exposure Guidelines for Auto Mechanics

WASHINGTON, D.C.-November 21, 2003-Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a booklet warning auto mechanics that they may be working on asbestos brakes and clutches, few mechanics are aware of the problem (see Auto Mechanics Risk Asbestos Exposure). Nationwide, the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) has not inspected many auto repair shops for compliance with worker safety requirements involving asbestos, and mechanics often labor without respiratory protection (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 25, 2003). Despite these dangers, an international law firm has petitioned the EPA to stop distributing the "Gold Book," a booklet about the extent of asbestos exposure at auto repair shops.

The firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, refused the newspaper's requests to identify its client, a company or person seeking to stop both distribution of the Gold Book as well as of other pamphlets and posters about asbestos in automobiles. It has previously represented an asbestos firm and insurance companies involved in asbestos litigation, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The petition comes at a time when shipments of asbestos to the United States remain high, and many of these imports are asbestos friction materials used for brakes and other products. The amount of imported asbestos brake material has increased 300 percent in the past decade, the newspaper calculated.

Withdrawing the Gold Book would mislead the public by giving the false impression that asbestos exposure from brake work is no longer a risk, Representatives Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and other members of the House Government Reform Committee and the House Education and Workforce Committee said in a letter to the EPA. They expressed concern that "neither the EPA nor OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] appears to be monitoring the risks of asbestos exposure to auto mechanics and ensuring that protections are in place." They also pointed out that the rate of contracting mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure, is 30 times as high as the background rate of the disease for individuals who were not exposed to asbestos.

The EPA Gold Book About Asbestos Brakes and Worker Safety

Entitled "Guidance for Preventing Asbestos Disease Among Auto Mechanics," the Gold Book states that brake linings and clutch facings often contain asbestos. Servicing asbestos brakes and clutches creates dust that may expose both customers and mechanics to the substance. Using a compressed air hose to clean drum brakes can release up to 16 million asbestos fibers in the cubic meter of air around a mechanic's face, according to the Gold Book. Even wiping asbestos brakes with a rag, whether dry or wet, or using a liquid squirt bottle releases millions of asbestos fibers. Grinding to renew brake block linings causes concentrations of up to seven million asbestos fibers per cubic meter, and beveling new linings can release concentrations of up to 72 million fibers, the Gold Book says.

The Gold Book recommends using pre-ground, installation-ready brake linings and clutch facings. If that is not possible, it suggests using enclosure equipment around asbestos brakes and clutches during servicing. With proper enclosure equipment, asbestos-containing dust may be sucked into a vacuum cleaner with a special HEPA or "high-efficiency particulate air" filter.