Asbestos a danger to techs

Oct. 1, 2006
PROFESSIONAL TECHNICIANS who work on more than five pairs of brakes or five clutches per week must use one of two Occupational Safety and Health Administration

PROFESSIONAL TECHNICIANS who work on more than five pairs of brakes or five clutches per week must use one of two Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) work practices, according to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bulletin.

The bulletin, “Current Best Practices for Preventing Asbestos Exposure Among Brake and Clutch Repair Workers,” lists the two methods:

  • Negative-Pressure Enclosure/HEPA Vacuum System Method

    This type of enclosure and vacuum system has a special box with clear plastic walls or windows, which fits tightly around a brake or clutch assembly to prevent asbestos exposure.

  • Low Pressure/Wet Cleaning Method

    This specially designed low-pressure spray equipment wets down the brake assembly and catches the runoff in a special basin to prevent airborne brake dust from spreading in the work area.

A technician in a commercial automotive shop that performs work on no more than five pairs of brakes or five clutches per week should use the following method instead:

  • Wet Wipe Method

    This method involves using a spray bottle or other device capable of delivering a fine mist of water, or amended water (water with a detergent), at low pressure to wet all brake and clutch parts. The brakes can then be wiped clean with a cloth.

By law, most professional automotive shops must follow the OSHA regulations at 29 CFR 1910.1001, and specifically paragraph (f)(3) and Appendix F. These are mandatory measures that employers must implement for automotive brake and clutch inspection, disassembly, repair, and assembly operations. State and local governments with employees who perform brake and clutch work in states without OSHA-approved state plans must follow the identical regulations found under the EPA Asbestos Worker Protection Rule (Subpart G of 40 CFR 763).

The EPA bulletin says asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that is “highly heat resistant, can cause serious health problems when inhaled into the lungs. If products containing asbestos are disturbed, thin, lightweight asbestos fibers can be released into the air. Persons breathing the air may breathe in asbestos fibers. Continued exposure can increase the amount of fibers deposited in the lung. Fibers embedded in the lung tissue over time may result in lung diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. Smoking increases the risk of developing asbestosis and lung cancer.”

Some dust can't be seen

The bulletin says mechanics should be concerned about asbestos exposure because some automotive brakes and clutches available or in use today may contain asbestos.

“Brake and clutch dust can be seen when a brake disk, drum, clutch cover, or the wheel is removed from a car, truck, or other equipment. There are also many small dust particles that cannot be seen with the eye. If the brakes contain asbestos, the dust may contain asbestos fibers, which could be inhaled.

“You cannot tell whether brake or clutch components contain asbestos simply by looking at them. For newer vehicles and parts, auto manufacturers, auto parts retailers, and packaging information may be able to tell you whether or not your brake or clutch components contain asbestos. For older vehicles, or vehicles that have had brakes replaced, you may not be able to easily find out if the brake or clutch components contain asbestos.”

The wet wipe method described in the brochure ( has been deemed acceptable by OSHA for shops that service no more than five brakes or clutches per week.”

It is recommended that workers:

  • Do not use compressed air for cleaning. Compressed air blows brake and clutch dust into the air.

  • Do not clean brakes or clutches with a dry rag, brush (wet or dry), or garden hose.

  • Do not use an ordinary shop-vac without a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to vacuum dust. Invisible particles of brake or clutch dust can stay in the air and on your clothes long after a job is complete.

  • Avoid taking work clothing home after performing brake and clutch work to prevent exposing your family to dust particles that may contain asbestos.

  • Use pre-ground, ready-to-install parts.

  • If a brake or clutch lining must be drilled, grooved, cut, bevelled, or lathe-turned use low speeds to keep down the amount of dust created.

  • Use machinery with a local exhaust dust collection system equipped with HEPA filtration to prevent dust exposures and work area contamination.

Professional automotive technicians must dispose of waste that contains brake or clutch dust, including wet rags used to wipe this dust, in accordance with Federal and local regulations including the OSHA asbestos waste disposal regulations. Brake and clutch dust and other asbestos waste must be collected and disposed of in sealed, impermeable containers that are appropriately labeled (29 CFR 1910.1001(k)(6) and 29 CFR 1910.1001(j)(4)). These regulations do not apply to home mechanics. EPA recommends that asbestos waste be double-bagged and taken to a landfill that accepts asbestos waste.

For more information on asbestos, contact the EPA Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Assistance Information Service at (202) 554-1404. Or contact the EPA office at