Exposure most often occurs when materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged. Dust full of microscopic asbestos fibers is then let loose into the air where they can easily be inhaled or ingested. Since there is recurrent abrasion on brake pads and clutches, a large amount of the toxic material is trapped inside the brake housing or clutch space, and is then released when replacement or repair work is done. Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of a rare and aggressive cancer known as Mesothelioma.
Because the symptoms of Mesothelioma usually do not show up until 15 to 25 years after exposure, it is not usually diagnosed until the disease is in its advanced stages, making a typical Mesothelioma prognosis a rather bleak one. It is estimated that since 1940 more than six million mechanics have been exposed to asbestos in brakes. The increasing rate of asbestos-related illnesses has resulted in mechanics, military veterans and people of other at-risk occupations seeking Mesothelioma settlements by filing lawsuits.
Auto mechanics and enthusiasts who do auto repair on older vehicles should take the right precautions to avoid asbestos exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a detailed brochure that offers information regarding OSHA's regulations for commercial automotive shops concerning asbestos.