A lot of different fields use insulation, helping to control the temperature inside buildings and equipment. They are most commonly found in industrial and residential buildings, but they are also found within machinery and ships. Usually, insulation workers or insulators will determine how much insulation is needed for a specific situation, and how it should be installed. They will look at certain issues, such as how the equipment will be used, what shape the surface is, and where it will be used. They then install sheet metal to make sure the elements can’t touch the insulation either.

Insulation is really important because it can lower energy usage by as much as 40%. This makes it much more energy efficient, while also protecting against noise pollution. Not only is it effective, but it is also simple to use and very affordable, while at the same time lowering carbon footprints.

Insulation has been used throughout the history of mankind, and we now know that, between the 1930s and 1970s, much of the insulation used was made from asbestos. As a result, those who worked in those industries were at increased risk of exposure. This is still true today because, although asbestos is now banned, it remains present in existing installations that sometimes have to be disturbed.

Where You Will Find Asbestos Insulation

Asbestos insulation was commonly used in:

  • Attics, with Zonolite being the most commonly used brand. HVAC systems in attics also commonly have asbestos insulation.
  • Blocks insulation, which are placed around the concrete blocks used in the construction of buildings
  • Pipe insulation, which helps to bring the temperature of a hot pipe down. This remains today’s most common way of sustaining asbestos exposure, particularly in the shipbuilding industry.
  • Spray applied insulation, which is found in ceilings, walls, and attics
  • Valve insulation jackets, which are found on temperature sensitive equipment, such as expansion joints, pipe work, flanges, and boilers
  • Wall insulation, which is a perfect tool for controlling temperatures inside a home. Unfortunately, before the 1970s, almost all insulation contained asbestos.

Asbestos Exposure

During the 1900s, exposure to asbestos from insulators was the single greatest cause of asbestos-related illnesses. This is because the mineral was found everywhere from manufacturing facilities to people’s homes. Whenever something needed to be insulated, it was covered in asbestos. As a result, insulation workers were exposed to fibers daily, and they quickly started to develop mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and other conditions.

Today, we know that asbestos exposure can lead to these types of cancer. As a result, the substance is no longer used. However, there are still many old pipes and other pieces of equipment around that were insulated with asbestos. To make the problem worse, these pieces are becoming very old, which means the chance that the asbestos has crumbled is even bigger. The 55,600 people who currently work as insulators according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), therefore, continue to be at risk. Since the industry is also experiencing significant growth of 13%, the chance that people have been or will be exposed also continues to rise. As a result, the BLS has made a separate category for hazardous materials workers.

Studies on Exposure of Insulation Workers to Asbestos

Numerous scientific studies have been completed linking insulation workers to asbestos.

These include:

  • A study published in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine, which involved 162 people working as Belfast insulators in the 1940s. Incidences of asbestos-related illnesses were much higher in this population group than in any other.
  • A study reported in the Environmental Health Perspectives, which found that those working as insulators in one of Japan’s U.S. Navy shipyards were much more likely to die from lung cancer. Additionally, they found that asbestos remained at the facility after 1979.
  • A study by H. Seidman and Dr. Irving J. Selikoff in 1990, which found that when asbestos exposure dropped during 1967 and 1986, the incidence of asbestos-related illnesses declined as well.

Insulators and Asbestos Exposure Lawsuits

Because most cases of asbestos-related illnesses were contracted in the workplace, many people who were affected by mesothelioma and other such illnesses have filed lawsuits against various corporations.

These include:

  • Fibreboard Paper Products Corporation, which had to pay over $1 million to the widow of one worker who died as a result of mesothelioma
  • Johns Manville Products Corp., which had to pay $200,000 in damages to one worker who developed asbestosis as a result of prolonged exposure from working with their products.

Insulator Products Containing Asbestos

When it became widely known that insulators were at increased risk of asbestos-related illnesses, a number of manufacturers came forward and admitted that their products contained asbestos. These products have now, where possible, been removed. Those that have not been removed have warning labels attached to them, and anyone working on or near them has to be supplied with extensive protective equipment. Unfortunately, while it is hoped that we now know exactly which products do and do not contain asbestos, the reality is that it is likely that many manufacturers simply have not come forward yet. At present, we know that insulators who have worked with products from the following companies may have been exposed to asbestos:

  • A C & S
  • A.P. Green Industries
  • Certainteed Corporation
  • C.E. Thurston & Sons
  • Crown Cork and Seal
  • Combustion Engineering
  • GAF Corporation
  • EaglePicher
  • Ehret Magnesia
  • Kaiser Aluminum
  • Nicolet/Keasbey & Mattison
  • National Gypsum Company
  • Rock Wool Manufacturing
  • Pacor Incoprated
  • The Flintkote Company
  • Shook & Fletcher
  • Western MacArthur
  • Unarco
  • Johns Manville
  • Armstrong World Industries/Fibreboard Paper Products Corporation
  • Owens-Illinois
  • Owens Corning/Fibreboard
  • Celotex
  • Garlock
  • W.R. Grace & Company

The majority of these companies has also been involved in some form of litigation, with insulators claiming damages due to them developing an asbestos-related illness.

While the number of insulators who are developing asbestos-related illnesses is dropping steadily, these illnesses have a latency period of sometimes up to 50 years. This means that medical professionals expect that numbers will continue to rise for a few more years. Additionally, exposure continues to this day, although the risk of developing any asbestos-related illnesses due to working in the industry today is now classed as moderate. States with the highest numbers of insulators, and where the levels of mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancers are also higher, include Illinois, Florida, New York, California, Oregon, and Texas.