OSHA Scientist Pressured to Revise Warning About Asbestos Brakes

Scientist Threatened With Suspension for Not Removing Asbestos Warnings

WASHINGTON, DC - December 1, 2006 - After working at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for over three decades, Ira Wainless may lose his job because he has refused to water down the safety advisory he created about asbestos in brakes (Baltimore Sun, November 20, 2006). According to the newspaper, Mr. Wainless is being pressured to remove asbestos warnings from the document and include auto industry studies claiming that asbestos brake dust is not harmful.

An OSHA official, David Ippolito, threatened Mr. Wainless with suspension without pay for 10 days if he does not make the changes, the Baltimore Sun said. A former OSHA head who is now allegedly connected with the auto industry, has also called for the revisions.

Replacement and Older Brakes May Contain Asbestos

The current version of the OSHA advisory tells mechanics to assume that all brakes contain asbestos. "Worn non-asbestos brake shoes cannot be readily distinguished from asbestos-type shoes," it warns. The document details ways to reduce asbestos brake dust including the use of negative pressure enclosure/HEPA vacuum systems. It emphasizes that asbestos may be present in both old and replacement brakes and clutches. The EPA has updated its mechanic's best practices for working on cars that might utilized asbestos brake parts.

Many auto mechanics incorrectly assume that asbestos has been banned in this country and is no longer contained in brakes and clutches. However, asbestos-containing brakes and clutches were routinely used in older cars and trucks, and millions of these vehicles are still on the highways. Also, imports of asbestos-containing brakes have increased 83% over the past decade. These replacement brakes may be used in both newer and older vehicles.

The Asbestos Brake Problem: How OSHA Looked the Other Way

From 2000 through 2003, the Seattle-Intelligencer newspaper investigated auto repair shops in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Richmond, Seattle, and Washington, DC. It found high levels of asbestos dust on floors, work areas and tool bins in brake repair garages. Yet from 1973 through 2003, OSHA did not have a routine program of inspections or surprise visits at auto repair shops and rarely cited the businesses for asbestos violations (Oversight Report, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, US House of Representatives, March 2004).

OSHA originally prepared the advisory about asbestos hazards for auto mechanics in 2004, but did not release it at that time. Another pamphlet that would have been helpful to auto mechanics was out-of-print and unavailable. Created by the Environmental Protection Agency, the pamphlet was entitled "Guidance for Preventing Asbestos Disease Among Auto Mechanics," and commonly known as the "Gold Book."

OSHA finally released its advisory to the public on July 26, 2006, over two years after its creation. The publication was no doubt issued in response to newspaper investigations and questions by several members of Congress.

Now some OSHA officials are again trying to look the other way and ignore the asbestos problems at auto repair shops. The effort to change the advisory warning is "what the auto industry and brake industry is doing to defend itself against lawsuits from people who died from occupational exposure to asbestos," according to Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), as quoted in the Baltimore Sun. "The people that repair our cars and trucks deserve, at a bare minimum, to be warned," he added.

Asbestos Brakes and Your Legal Rights

Auto mechanics may develop asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis, asbestos lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs and chest cavity. These diseases do not appear until decades after the first exposure to asbestos, so auto repair workers may not know that they are being harmed by asbestos and can remain symptom-free for years.

If you are an auto mechanic, we suggest that you let your doctor know about your possible exposure to asbestos, especially if you repair asbestos brakes or clutches. That way, your doctor can monitor your lung health over time, perform the appropriate tests and refer you to a specialist, if necessary.

If you have developed asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer or another asbestos disease and would like legal representation, please feel free to free to contact our asbestos lawyers. We will review your case free of charge, answer your questions and advise you of your legal choices.