Civil Engineer Asbestos Exposure

Civil engineers are responsible for the design and maintenance of our roads, bridges, dams, buildings and other similar structures. In most cases, civil engineer asbestos exposure is not due to directly handling the material, but rather while supervising other workers who are installing asbestos products that are required for their design.

At Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers, our Boston mesothelioma attorneys recognize the risk of asbestos exposure for engineers might not be as high as for, say, construction workers or auto mechanics. Civil engineers rarely must engage in physical labor themselves. That said, they don’t have a typical desk job, and the danger of exposure to asbestos is generally higher than for many other professions because civil engineers are involved in the demolition, repair and construction of city infrastructure – and materials used in these structures have historically contained a great deal of asbestos.

Some of the projects on which civil engineers might encounter asbestos include:

  • Tunnels
  • Dams
  • Bridges
  • Sewer Systems
  • Airports
  • Roads
  • Water supply pipes and equipment

Some of those asbestos materials could be found specifically in:

  • Walls (wallboard, siding, sprayed coating, insulation board, joint compounds, spackle)
  • Roof Shingles (roofing felt, cement siding)
  • Wallpaper (vinyl wall coverings)
  • Floors (tiles, vinyl, asphalt, vinyl sheet flooring)
  • Ceilings (tiles)
  • Electrical Products (asbestos flash strips, rope gasket door seals, separators)
  • Construction products (asbestos sheets and boards and piping)
  • Bridges (building materials therein)
  • Roads (particularly from serpentine rock)
  • Dams (generators, turbines, piping, conduits)

Structures that date back to the 1970s almost undoubtedly contain some level of asbestos. To minimize the risk of exposure, employers are required to identify the risk and proceed with proper removal of asbestos before a renovation or demolition can proceed.

What is the Danger for Civil Engineers?

Civil engineering is a growing field, which means there are going to be more workers grappling with the potential for asbestos exposure in the future. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a projected 8 percent growth in the field of civil engineering in the next decade.

Many of these engineers spend time at outdoor construction sites, monitoring operations or solving problems onsite.

Although there have been no new uses for asbestos since the late 1970s, civil engineers who worked with construction material prior to that were likely regularly exposed to the toxic dust.

Many civil engineers are still exposed to asbestos dust when conducting repair and demolition work of older structures.

Unfortunately until very recently, many civil engineers labored without protective equipment, and may be especially vulnerable to developing asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Most of those affected will not find out right away because these conditions do not manifest until many years – usually decades – after exposure.

Examples of specific dangers that have been noted in various case studies and reports include:

  • The California Department of Transportation in the last decade issued a 58-page report detailing asbestos exposure in three local bridges under demolition. Chrysotile asbestos material – between 40 percent and 70 percent – was found in the shim material interfacing the metal guardrails of the concrete bridges.
  • The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board reported serpentine materials used in roads contain chrysotile asbestos. Serpentine is sometimes used to surface roads and driveways, and can be disturbed during road building and reconstruction, home construction and even when gardening.
  • Industry publication HydroWorld reported the ongoing concern of asbestos exposure for operators/ owners/ creators of hydroelectric facilities (dams). While asbestos is used sparingly in new construction, it is still used. Plus, any renovation or demolition of older dams, there is almost always asbestos present.

Years ago, very few contractors knew or understood the dangerous of exposure to asbestos. Even those that did often failed to warn workers or provide the proper safety precautions.

Much of the work civil engineers are expected to conduct over the years will involve demolition, maintenance and repair of older structures, as our infrastructure continues to age. We’ll need to build new bridges, repair roads, upgrade our levees and dams and renovate our airports and building structures. All of this invites additional opportunity for exposure to asbestos for civil engineers.

While employers generally can’t be sued for non-compensatory damages, civil engineers may be able to collect some level of workers’ compensation benefits, including coverage of medical bills. Beyond that, manufacturers of asbestos products may be held accountable for the damage caused by their materials.

Why Was Asbestos Used?

Although we know asbestos today as a potentially deadly compound, it was initially used to make products safer. Specifically, asbestos is an excellent insulator when it comes to fire and heat.

For example, “blue asbestos,” also known as crocidolite, is known to provide good insulation against electrical currents. Meanwhile, “brown asbestos,” formally known as amosite, is known to be resistant to potentially flammable chemicals. In some cases, combining different forms of asbestos protected property and people from the risk of electrocution, heat, chemical burns and fire.

Although these materials might have generally been safe at first, they became friable (reduced to powder and susceptible to becoming airborne) and a major hazard as they aged.

Asbestos Illness Latency Period

With most work-related injuries and even illnesses, the impact is known almost immediately. There is a very clear cause-and-effect. This is not the case with asbestos-related diseases. Most asbestos-related diseases take between 20 and 30 years to manifest, sometimes even longer.

By the time mesothelioma is diagnosed, the odds of a person living beyond three years are slim. Depending on the exact type of mesothelioma, one may live longer and have an improved remaining quality of life with an early diagnosis. That’s why it’s so imperative for civil engineers exposed to asbestos to be aware of their risk and seek regular medical checkups.

Often, the early symptoms of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma can mirror other less serious conditions. The American Cancer Society advises civil engineers who know they are at risk should seek immediate assessment if they notice symptoms like:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Excessive sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Fatigue
  • Hoarseness
  • Swelling of the face and arms
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain

If you are a civil engineer or retired from the field and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or some other asbestos-related disease, our experienced injury attorneys can help.

Contact Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers today for a free and confidential consultation.


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