Lung Cancer Risks with Car Repair

Lung Cancer Risks with Car Repair
Lung Cancer Risks with Car Repair

Classic car restoration normally requires labor-intensive work that any vintage car aficionado knows will ultimately pay off. A critical factor is time. It’s a valuable resource in addition to the cost of car parts. Depending on how much you’re willing to spend on your car in both time and effort, “it can take around 1,000 hours to fully restore a classic car.”

Those who enjoy restoring vintage cars to their former glory find any roadblocks well worth the final results. Even when this isn’t as enjoyable to everyone else due to the investment and potential dangers. Anyone who spends time working on cars or in a repair shop, whether it be for work or leisure, could run the risk of exposure to toxins or restoration hazards.

Lung Cancer Awareness Month focuses on respiratory wellness. Continue reading to discover three toxins car restorers may face.

Asbestos and Vehicle Age

Asbestos is a cancerous mineral used in cars for a variety of things. The U.S. started regulating asbestos in the 1980s. Before then, car manufacturers added asbestos extensively in automotive components.

During repair and restoration, asbestos fibers may be exposed. Loose asbestos is highly dangerous because there is no qualified safe amount. Any level is potentially life-threatening. Once inhaled, the razor-sharp fibers can lodge themselves in your lungs and can lead to asbestos-related diseases and symptoms.

Parts Where You Might Find Asbestos

  • Clutch linings
  • Brake pads
  • Hood liners
  • Transmission plates
  • Cabin insulation
  • Gaskets

Asbestos is linked to a number of different lung diseases. One of which is pleural mesothelioma, a devastating cancer of the lung with a low survival rate. Auto mechanics are among one of the highest groups of people to develop this disease.

If you suspect your car may have asbestos components, it’s best to let an abatement specialist deal with removal. You should also use pre-ground ready-to-install parts. They reduce your risks of asbestos exposure.

Plastics in Older Cars

Between the 1950s to the 1970s the popularity of plastics was widespread. Car manufacturers relied on plastics for interior parts. However, the regulations of plastic manufacturing throughout this time were not as safe as today. Plastics could contain toxins, mainly polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The U.S. government banned the production of plastic car parts with PCBs in the early 1970s. Classic car restoration reintroduces these dangers.

Plastics with PCBs in Vintage Cars

  • Headliners
  • upholstery
  • Dashboards
  • Seat components

“Studies in humans support evidence for potential carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic effects of PCBs.” Additionally, research indicates that “different health effects of PCBs may be interrelated. Alterations in one system may have significant implications for the other systems of the body.”

The EPA lists possible diseases and health effects related to PCB exposure:

  • Reproductive Effects
  • Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS)
  • Immune Effects
  • Cancer
  • Neurological Effect
  • Endocrine Effects
  • Other Non-cancer Effects

The dangers of PCBs continue for decades, as they “do not readily break down once in the environment. They can remain for long periods cycling between air, water and soil.” Federal action provides a list of PCB trade names. They also work on laws and regulations to reduce exposure and promote safety standards.

Lead Paint in Classic Cars

Lead is another common toxin you may encounter while working on an old car. The paint was used to create vibrant colors and promote faster drying.  Bodywork on an older car could contaminate the air with lead dust. This greatly increases the risk of lead poisoning for those in the vicinity.

Although lead has been banned in the use of new vehicles, the market for classic cars still exists.

The risks of lead paint poisoning from car restoration depend on a few factors. Grinding and sanding lead paint on the exterior of a car may be required if there is rust or chipping. The type and color of the paint, and the vehicle’s age, contribute to the level of toxicity of the lead paint.

Lead in Other Areas of Your Car

  • Lead wheel weights
  • Battery
  • Paint

Lung cancer is just one of the many side effects. Lead can also cause severe central nervous system and cognitive impairment. Children are most at risk of these side effects. If you’re working in an area where children are frequently present, you could be exposing them to a substance that can be detrimental to their health.

There is no known cure for lead poisoning, and it should be avoided at all costs.

How to Protect Yourself During Auto Repair

Learning about these lung health risks can make you aware of what to watch out for and avoid. All of these chemicals can vary in toxicity according to the car’s year, make, model, and features.

Proactive Measures

  • Work in a properly ventilated area.
  • Wear protective clothing like face masks, gloves, or goggles.
  • Know when to call a professional.

Speaking to car restoration experts can also provide further insight into automotive safety. Those who have been repairing vintage cars for years may be familiar with all car hazards.

Lung Cancer Awareness Month is a nationwide health awareness that occurs annually in October. Classic car restoration is historically more of a long-term investment project than one that is risky. But responsible car owners should know all aspects of restoration.