The Hidden Danger in Molded Plastics
Plastic materials have been used from the beginning of the 20th century across multiple industries. Despite environmentalist concerns, nowadays plastic is still one of the most popular materials required in production and packaging.
Plastic serves multiple applications because of its flexibility; this material can easily be molded and shaped. But to be able to do this, you need a material that helps the compound’s elements mix together which is called a filler. One of the most common fillers used before the 80’ was asbestos, a mineral that poses tremendous risks to human health. It’s important for us to know what lies beneath the surface of the products we buy and how their composition can affect us. So, let’s discover the connection between molded plastics and asbestos, where this dangerous mineral was used and how harmful it still is.
What Plastic Products Contained Asbestos?
Asbestos fibers have high heat resistance which is the reason why this mineral has been deployed in numerous applications ranging from the constructions field to the shipyard and the automobile industry. Similarly, asbestos was used as a component in molding plastics for the same property which made the final compound resistant to high temperatures. The most common products which were manufactured using asbestos reinforced plastics were:
• car components such as brake linings, clutch facings, arc chutes, electric motor casing, air conditioners and heaters
• electro-mechanical applications such as the circuit breakers, domestic electrical panels or switches
• aircraft parts: missile casings, acid proof tanks, missile blast tubes, rocket motor insulation, aircraft ducting
• gun grips
• cable insulators
• noise insulation
• gas vent pipes
• sewer pipes
• cooking utensils
• chemical filters
• roofing materials
Nonetheless, given that many products were typically built in order to be integrated into more complex mechanisms, molded plastic could have been included in various other applications.
Who Was at Risk of Being Exposed to Asbestos-Containing Plastics?
The production of asbestos plastic molding was widespread until the 80’s. This material was produced in large quantities in chemical plants. Consequently, the people who worked in these factories were constantly exposed to high concentrations of asbestos. The danger of exposure was significant especially when the workers handled raw asbestos fibers. The toxic dust that these fibers eliminate is particularly harmful because the particles are invisible, and they are involuntarily inhaled.
Asbestos dust could be released during any stage of the production process, from the initial stage when the compound is poured, to the packaging and storage phases.
Given that most plants where plastic was produced or deployed were huge open spaces, the dispersion of the toxic fibers was inevitable. Employees who weren’t directly involved in the production process were still at risk of breathing.
Moreover, the exposure dangers were not limited to the factory site because those who spent all day in that environment could easily take the toxic fibers at home too. All the objects and the clothes they used at work could have come back home carrying the deadly mineral. Those who lived with these workers were susceptible to developing the same health issues due to secondary exposure to asbestos.
How Could the Asbestos in Plastic Molding Compounds Affect Your Health?
Asbestos is such a controversial material because, despite its industrial efficiency, it can cause irreversible diseases. This mineral’s particles are extremely thin and invisible to the human eye. Therefore, it is hard to detect and monitor exposure. Once these particles are inhaled, they get into the lungs where they cause scarring in the lung lining. These effects are unfortunately irreversible, and they can lead to serious conditions such as asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma, a very severe form of cancer which is caused solely by asbestos exposure. Although the exposure might have occurred decades ago, its signs remain latent and this is why hundreds of people are diagnosed with asbestos diseases after retirement.
Today the plastic molding process has come a long way and the use of asbestos as a filler has been regulated. Yet, for those who have been exposed to this toxic mineral and developed correlated diseases, there’s little relief. Their only consolation is the fact that they are legally entitled to file a claim with the company that caused their exposure and receive a compensation. The money will help them cover their medical expenses and ensure a dignified living for these people who worked in factories decades ago and pay a high price nowadays.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Channika DeSilva Gonzalez
Channika DeSilva Gonzalez is one of the attorneys at Environmental Litigation Group. Her area of expertise is environmental toxic tort law, with a focus on asbestos cases.
Channika has a vast experience in representing asbestos exposure victims and helping them recover compensation from more than 30 bankruptcy trusts. She represented clients in Social Security Disability Law and mass tort litigation.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.