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Question about the safety of our Hobby.


1940_Dodge
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Something lately that has been on my mind a lot is the safety of our hobby. How was asbestos used in the cars from the 30's to the 70's? I know it was used in the brake pads and brake lines, but was it used anywhere else? What are safe ways to remove this completely?

It seems the opinion of a lot of people on these sites is I'm too old to get Asbestosis so I don't care. I'm only in my 20's so that's not true in my case. I'd really hate for the hobby I love to kill me in 20 years.

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1940_Dodge,

I really do not think you have anything to worry about. The amount of asbestos that may be in your car is not enough to kill you. If it was, I would have been dead years ago from the amounts that I have breathed in. Back in the 1970s, when asbestos was still used in brake pads, I worked in a service station. One of my jobs was to remove the brake drums and blow everything out with the air hose. This was a messy job that the mechanic did not want to do and as the mechanic trainee I got the job. I have blown out hundreds of car's brake parts and still have healthy lungs. As a side note, after the brake dust was blown out of the brake parts, I got to clean the shop at the end of the day – more brake dust to breathe in.

Another unsafe practice, by today’s standards, was a barrel of solvent that we cleaned parts in – using out bare hands. I wonder how much solvent I have absorbed through my skin.

Edited by Mark Huston (see edit history)
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I've done the solvent barrel thing too along with breathing all kinds of toxic dust particles and fumes from sanding down old paint jobs to heating old paint to the point of burning it off in some cases to remove it. There's lots of lead in those cars too.

I'm sure I've got some health issues, some of which I don't want to deal with.

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In answer to the original question, asbestos was (very effectively) used in brake and clutch linings and probably some insulation and soundproofing. Most old timers with related health problems developed them after years of daily workplace exposure and I would not worry about small exposure from one old car today.

That said, one should practice basic safety precautions to avoid conditions like Mark Huston outlines. I keep good dust masks for use while sanding, sweeping, bead blasting or working on brakes. I also try to wash my hands and skin immediately after handling paint, solvents, gasoline, etc. Use of rubber gloves is best but I am not so good about that. Be careful and you will be fine, good luck, Todd C

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I agree with the others; the dangers of asbestos exposure are GROSSLY over-stated by the press. It's not like the stuff just being there makes you sick like radiation does, you need prolonged exposure to it in your lungs to get sick in any way. Guys working in asbestos factories, or places where asbsetos was made into something else back in the pre-OSHA days are the ones with problems, not folks like us who have very, very minor contact with it in its intact form.

The only time you need to worry is when it becomes airborne as dust. Brakes and clutch faces probably make dust, but it's inside a housing--just don't use your air gun to clean out your brake drums if you suspect the brake linings are asbestos (I bet they're not). Use a dust mask if you're really worried, but in the course of normal operation it's a non-issue.

I remember as a kid we would pull the asbestos pipe insulation off the heating pipes in my basement and pound each other over the head with them until the whole basement was a cloud. THAT is probably pretty bad for you. But having asbestos, intact, in your old car will do you no harm.

Hope this helps.

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Think about this; when you pull drums or a trans out the amount of dust is nothing compared to where the rest of that material went. That stuff went out on the street. When I was a kid we marked the street off and played football out there, frisbee, bike riding, skateboarding, dodgeball....you name it- we played it...all in the street.

Not only was asbestos used for brakes and clutches ( automatic and standard ), but in ducting for auto heaters-I have two cars with it , home heating, firewall protection, and in the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's for home siding and blown into under pressure with a glue into large buildings for insulation. We were using it in the early 70's to insulate fuel line/hose, starters and starter solenoids from engine heat. Racing engine builders used it to wrap exhaust headers.

To some people exposure to it spells a death sentence, to others nothing happens. Reminds me of my mom who smoked since she was seventeen and never had a problem even to her mid 80's with her lungs, while others like my moms sister who passed in her late 40's of lung cancer who was a smoker also.

D.

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I would suggest that the other safety hazards of old cars far outweigh the chemical ones of asbestos and lead and any other materials. I am speaking of single system hydraulic brakes, rollover protection, no anti-skid, safety glass, and an additional long list. But in the bigger picture all these pale in comparison to the " nut behind the wheel". It is speed in most cases ( both by the old car and driving a slow car on a fast interstate) that seems to be the biggest killer. It is you, the biggest hazard and the best safety device wrapped up in one package.

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Jayson, it's good that you're thinking about this subject. That you are somewhat concerned. I also suspect that many of us more vintage members of the hobby might have developed something of an immunity to many of the things-automotive which were common atmospheric "gifts" back then. Be it asbestos dust from brake or clutch components or particles of tetraethyl lead which came out the end of the tail pipes (AND also gave their inside a gray coating, unlike current ones with a black coating) and landed in the streets and pastures of the world.

Brake pads and linings still make dust, but it's not asbestos dust as it was in the 1960s and prior. I'm not sure when it happened, but I believe the first non-asbestos OEM brake shoes/pads came out in the earlier 1970s? When metallic content in such linings was usually for "special applications" rather than commonplace.

Usually, I believe, asbestos dust/particles are not harmful UNLESS they are disturbed or become airborne. Dormant, so to speak, they are just that . . . dormant.

It was quite common to give brake assemblies a quite "blow-off" with compressed air before doing any work on them. Or even with the drums still installed. Tasting that dust, you knew it was not normal "dust", so your instincts were to shy away from it, if possible. This was in the eras before spray brake cleaner liquids--the "good stuff" with the high VOC content.

The current recommendations for doing brake work include starting with a large diameter drain pan, with some disposable paper towels in it to decrease splatters. Splatters from the run-off of the brake cleaner/brake lining particles . . . which are NOW considered "hazardous materials" and must be disposed of properly. Just as other automotive fluids generated from normal maintenance operations have their own unique disposal necessities.

Similarly, the lead which was used for body filler in repairs and the original building of the vehicle's body (lead solder on the joints where sheet metal sections were joined) will cause no potential health issues unless it's disturbed. I knew an old-line body shop owner who worked lead as a normal matter of course, well before plastic/fiberglass body fillers were available. He told a story about a younger guy he had working for him. The worker was sanding and doing other prep work. He came over and asked to go home, he was feeling sick. The owner asked what he'd been sanding (areas with lead solder) and then told him to go to the corner grocery store and get a quart of "sweet milk" and a box of saltine crackers. When he got back with the items, the owner told him to go outside and side down and eat the crackers and drink all of the milk. About an hour (or so) later, the guy was feeling good again. So he went back to work and was more careful about breathing the lead dust. I don't know how the milk and saltine crackers interacted, but it was allegedly a common "home remedy" for lead dust inhalation back then.

In our more modern time, it's common place for dealership and repair shop techs to "dress" with nitrile gloves before doing any repair work which might involve contact with automotive fluids. Filter masks (even with activated charcoal filters in them) are good to do, too, even for yard work where dust might be present.

I had a friend who was a body shop painter and never wore a mask, at least until he started having respiratory issues in his later 20s or so. It was common for masks to not be worn, back then, but soon became so as newer paint chemistries had components in them (hardeners and various pigments for the newer paints) which were certainly compromising to one's health. Now, if you watch the weekend morning cable car shows, you see the painters dress in haz-mat suits with full respirators before they get into a paint booth.

Back then, it was not uncommon for a painter to leave the booth and start sneezing "colors" or coughing it up. Not a pretty sight! THEN the gun got cleaned. Those that used "masks", generally used the simple paper masks, which were better than nothing, but left a tale-tell "line" around their edge . . . similar to a "tan line" . . . which mean the facial skin had a thin layer of paint on it.

I guess that when we didn't know that some of that stuff might hurt us, back then, it usually didn't. But now that we DO know about these things, the percentage of potential harm seems to have vastly increased.

In one respect, if you suspect some asbestos insulation might be in your older car, you might spray it with clear enamel (as "battery terminal protector") to seal it in where ever it might be. Using appropriate "protection", of course . . . for the other exposed areas of the vehicle (from overspray) and also of your body.

Back when unleaded gasoline was being discussed, one of the reasons mentioned for using it rather than the leaded fuels was that the TEL particles would exit the vehicles' exhaust pipes and drop to the road surface, or be blown into nearby pasttures . . . where "food chain" animals would injest it along with the vegetation it happened to land on. OR be flushed off the road surface by rain, flowing into the ditches and other water flows with storm water. Others claimed that due to lead's weight it would settle out in the bottom of the streams and reservoirs before it could become part of our water supplies.

Part of the automotive hobby is that vehicles always have been containers of many hazardous compounds/items. Many of which have been outlawed or replaced with other less-harmful compounds/items as time has progressed. Through all of this, the most hazardous part of a vehicle is "The nut behind the wheel." [[physically holding the steering wheel to the steering column or sitting behind the steering wheel -- you're judgment call on that]]

Just some thoughts,

NTX5467

--------------------------

I didn't see Layden's similar "nut behind the wheel" comment until after I finished my comments. Similar minds?

Edited by NTX5467 (see edit history)
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Maybe someone with post-graduate coursework in toxicology should chime in here......:rolleyes:

The truth is that mesothelioma is usually triggered by a single fiber of asbestos which happens to interfere at just the right spot at just the right time during mitosis. One single fiber does this, meanwhile we are exposed to thousand of them every time do a brake job or change a clutch. The reason we're not all dead is that it's an extremely rare event for correct mutation to occur that results in mesothelioma.

The bottom line is: the more exposure to these fibers you have, the more of a chance you have to contract the disease. It's a simple association. A person that inhales 20 (or 20 million) asbestos fibers once has 10 times the chance of contracting the disease as someone who inhales 2 (or 2 million) fibers. There is a documented, measurable increase in mesothelioma cases among 1960s-1980s auto mechanics' family members (much less of an increase then for the mechanics themselves, but real none the less), whose only additional exposure is what was tracked home on the mechanics clothes and shoes.

There are exposures to cancer-causing substances that are a constant in modern life. You can't paint a room, fuel your car, eat a peanut, or sit next to someone who just smoked a cigarette without increasing your exposure, however small that might be. When it becomes something to be concerned about is when proper precautions aren't taken to minimize that exposure. You shouldn't spray asbestos dust in the air around yourself any more than you should spray lacquer thinner in the air. If you're taking the proper precautions for materials that are still allowed in public commerce your risk should be minimal (i.e. less than the usual allowable standards in toxicology, which is usually less than one additional death in a million).

Using modern materials/methods and reasonable precautions safely should not be an issue. Compared to smoking even one cigarette the risk in this hobby (probably) too small to measure. We do play with hazardous stuff sometimes, though, and you can dummy it up if you're not careful. With great fun comes great responsibility. :cool:

Edited by Dave@Moon (see edit history)
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No need to fear, the oldtimer pipefitters and sheetmetal workers used to spend all day, day after day in a room sawing away at this stuff amongst an asbestos cloud and most of them are ok. Back in the day just standing on a street corner exposed you to excessive amounts. Just a big overated money making scare. Kind of sucks though. it is a great product with a variety of uses.

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I worry more about a collision or other accident more than being poisoned by the car or its components.

My concern is more elevated as a passenger in an antique vehicle than when I am driving an antique vehicle. The former gives you more time to think about what could happen than the latter, which commands a focus on the task at hand.

The 1959 - 2009 Chevy Crash Test Video really illustrates the danger of a being involved in an accident while driving a vintage car.

PP

Edited by Pomeroy41144 (see edit history)
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Hi Jayson

What an interesting question. You certainly generated a good response!!

I will not say much on this subject as it has all been covered with some excellent posts above. I think the key points are that asbestos as used in old friction linings is bonded in resin and as such probably less harmful. I have seen white asbestos used as a heatproof wrap around an exhaust manifold, which would probably be nasty stuff if poked around. However, I believe it is blue asbestos which was the most harmful. Left alone, asbestos was a very suitable product. It is the maintenance operations where problems arise.

In any case, any fine dust from friction linings, body filler, or any other source are bad for you and to be avoided if possible. This means using a dust mask (note "nuisance dust" masks that are fine for brick dust and the like may not protect against finer particles or paint vapours), and more importantly, damping down the brake dust with brake cleaner. I try to wash the dust away, never blow with an air line. I have seen it done; even done it myself. It is crazy. Brake cleaner dries fully and will not ruin the linings as paraffin (kerosine?) will. You can buy brake cleaner in aerosols, but I buy it in 5 litre cans and use a trigger spray with a brass pump, which is more effective.

There has been some talk of seat belts, laminated glass etc, but these are only of use after the accident has happened. Our old cars are so defensively driven (I trust yours is too?) that the risk of collision is very low. I would think more about measures to avoid the collision in the first place, such as good lights, flashing turn signals and rexcellent maintenance of brakes and suspension. I always say to people, drive as if every other road user is an idiot! You will not be far wrong..:D

Good luck and keep us posted about the Dodge.

Adam..

Edited by Alfa (see edit history)
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Jayson,

Like many other codgers I grew up in the hobby doing all sorts of stupid and irresponsible things which were considered "normal" when I was doing them. Looking back with today's sensibility we say it was a miracle we lived to grow up but we also regret contributing to environmental problems that may have harmed others. It is really not much more difficult to take sensible precautions as you work on old cars which will keep you safe along with others around you. Good thinking and good topic.

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I wonder if the insurance industry or someone else keeps accident statistics for 'classic or vintage" cars involved in modern day accidents. I seem to recall a family tragedy in a Duesenberg a few years ago and a couple I met from South Africa killed in their vintage Rolls in Minnesota. I have seen old video footage of 1920's cars hitting and they just appear to explode. Surely an accident is the main thing to be vigilant about and check what's in your drinking water.

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I wonder if the insurance industry or someone else keeps accident statistics for 'classic or vintage" cars involved in modern day accidents. I seem to recall a family tragedy in a Duesenberg a few years ago and a couple I met from South Africa killed in their vintage Rolls in Minnesota. I have seen old video footage of 1920's cars hitting and they just appear to explode. Surely an accident is the main thing to be vigilant about and check what's in your drinking water.

I would be very surprised if they didn't track that as it directly relates to the premiums they need to charge. Premiums for collector car insurance are quite a bit less expensive than for a "daily driver" but I don't know how much that is due to reduced exposure to driving hazards (i.e. use restrictions), due to driver demographics or other reasons.

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Not to derail the topic about asbestos, but safety is a big deal with our old cars. We take my lady friend's two young kids with us in the old car and we worry about their safety quite a bit. When there are four of us, the boys ride in back and mom can monitor them. When I drove alone with the 3-year-old, I put him in his car seat, but up front with me. My thoughts on this were as follows (and I spent a great deal of time considering all this):

1. I believe seat belts are a waste in a car with a wooden body frame--no wood screw can hold you in place during the forces involved in a crash. Securing them to the chassis is also a mistake, since there are only 6 or 8 bolts holding said wood-framed body to the steel chassis. In an accident, if those bolts break, and the body comes off the frame, and I'm belted to the frame...

2. The back seat has suicide doors, so if the little guy decides to play with the door handles and one opens, it will fly open quickly with a great deal of force and pull him with it. Up front, I can better monitor him and keep him from playing around with things he shouldn't. Also the front doors lock from the outside and for some reason can't be opened from the inside when you do that--a safety problem, but perfect for this situation.

3. Driving smart is the only chance you have, but if someone is doing something stupid, there's not much we can do but hope for the best. These cars are not "tanks" like people seem to think. They'll disintegrate, especially at modern road speeds.

Thoughts?

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Just pretend you are driving a motorcycle, you don't want to be in a collision on one of these.

I doubt if one is safer than the other as you are probably going to get thrown off the bike or out of the car but given a choice I would prefer the added power and maneuverability of a bike in a dire situation of course with a helmet on. The physician in the 1930's who attended to Lawrence of Arabia's head trauma and eventual death after his bike mishap was instrumental in advocating helmet use for motorcyclists. I doubt if a similar requirement for automobilists was ever seriously suggested and just think of how ridiculous we would all look today in our phaetons and cabriolets on tour.

I would guess that workshop "accidents" claim more lives and casualties than anything else related to our hobby.

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Jayson

I had a look at your youtube clips of the Dodge last night. Very interesting. It is all there isn`t it? But you have a lot of work ahead of you.

Do post more clips when you can.

Have fun!!

Adam..

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