Asbestos in Wiring Insulation: A Complete Guide

Electrical wiring is required in nearly every building, yet it poses unique dangers due to the risk of sparks and fires. With its fire- and heat-resistant properties, asbestos wire insulation appeared to be an excellent solution. It was used throughout the U.S. for decades until a series of lawsuits and regulations exposed its link to diseases like mesothelioma.

Today, mesothelioma lawsuits continue to secure much-deserved compensation for victims. If you’re concerned about exposure to asbestos wiring, here’s what you need to know.

Use of Asbestos in Wiring

Asbestos wire insulation was extremely resistant to moisture and chemicals, preventing corrosion and damage in tough environments, like industrial buildings or extreme outdoor climates. It was also heat-resistant, helping reduce the risk of fires due to sparks from electrical shortages. Combined with its light weight and affordability, it seemed to be the perfect insulation material for many different electrical uses:

Construction & Industrial Applications

Asbestos wire insulation can be found in residential buildings, single-family homes, offices, industrial buildings and nearly anywhere with electrical wiring. Wires, groups of wires and thick electrical cables were often wrapped in asbestos paper or cloth to contain sparks and protect them from the elements.

Asbestos wires were also used in many types of industrial equipment, including:

  • Boilers
  • Ceramic arc chutes
  • Conveyor belts
  • Engines
  • Farm equipment
  • Furnaces
  • Generators
  • Motors
  • Oil burners
  • Ovens
  • Paper mills
  • Pumps
  • Tractors
  • Turbines
  • Welding equipment

Common Products With Asbestos Wire Insulation

Asbestos insulation isn’t limited to industrial equipment or the wiring in a building’s walls. Other common products that contained asbestos wiring include:

  • Cash registers
  • Circuit breakers
  • Computers
  • Cooking appliances
  • Dental equipment
  • Fans
  • Lamps
  • Power tools
  • Radios
  • Refrigerators
  • Televisions
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Vending machines
  • Washing machines and dryers
  • X-ray machines

Other Uses of Asbestos in Electrical Products

In addition to insulating the wires themselves, asbestos was used in a variety of other electrical materials, including:

  • Flash guards: Pieces of asbestos paper that lined electrical boxes
  • Arc chutes: Plastic molding that insulated and protected circuits
  • Shielding: Asbestos cement that created space between electrical components
  • Blankets: Insulating blankets were placed under hot water heaters and tanks
  • Paneling: Electrical panels were often made from plastic or cement containing asbestos

Health Risks of Asbestos in Wiring Insulation

Asbestos was highly prized due to its long, thin fibers, which could be spun into textiles or made into paper for wire insulation. But when asbestos products break down, they release a fine dust containing these fibers that, when inhaled, could become lodged in the lungs. Over a period of decades, they cause scar tissue buildup, inflammation and cell damage resulting in serious health issues, including cancers like mesothelioma.

Asbestos wire insulation is easily friable, which means it easily crumbles and releases fibers into the air. This is why it can pose a health risk to workers and homeowners handling it.

At-Risk Occupations

If you’re exposed to asbestos over a long period of time or exposed to high concentrations of asbestos, you may inhale more of the fibers. This puts you at a higher risk of developing asbestos diseases. Exposure at work is the most common cause of mesothelioma. The occupations most at-risk for asbestos wiring exposure include workers in the following industries:

  • Aerospace
  • Airplanes
  • Carpentry
  • Construction
  • Demolition
  • Electricians
  • Firefighters
  • HVAC
  • Insulation
  • Manufacturing
  • Mechanics
  • Military
  • Milling
  • Oil refining
  • Power plants
  • Remodeling
  • Shipbuilding

Workers in these industries also could have brought asbestos fibers home on their shoes, clothing and hair, so their family members were at possible risk for secondary exposure.

Today, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates exposure and requires protective equipment. However, many workers still work in environments where asbestos wire insulation and other products are present.

Managing Asbestos Wiring in Your Home

Homes built before the mid-1980s may not only contain asbestos wire insulation, but also a number of other asbestos building materials, including heating ducts and drywall. However, wire insulation poses a special risk due to its friability.

It’s difficult to determine if you have asbestos wiring by sight alone. If your wiring was installed before the mid-1980s, it’s safest to assume that the insulation and other components might contain asbestos. To be sure, have a sample tested by a professional testing company before you proceed with any repairs or replacement projects.

Generally, asbestos isn’t dangerous unless it’s disturbed or damaged, so if your wiring is in good condition or it’s contained within a wall or another enclosed area, it may be better to leave it in place. If it’s breaking down or you’re concerned about exposure, you should call a licensed asbestos abatement contractor.

Removing asbestos wire insulation is an involved process because the usual techniques, which involve wetting down the area to prevent dust from rising, can’t be used with electrical systems. Contractors must use dry techniques with particulate air ventilation, requiring specialized equipment. Along with protective gear, disposal rules and more, it’s easy to see why it’s best to leave asbestos wires to the professionals.

Compensation for Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos companies that made wire insulation and other electrical components knew of its dangers as early as the 1940s, and they ignored it for decades. Thousands of workers and their families now face life-altering changes and high medical bills due to mesothelioma. Asbestos exposure is the sole cause of mesothelioma, and you may be entitled to compensation from the companies that put you at risk if your case falls within the statute of limitations.

Early, Lucarelli, Sweeney and Meisenkothen has won mesothelioma compensation for many individuals who may have been exposed to asbestos wire insulation at work, including $3.6 million for an electrician in Connecticut. We have decades of experience fighting for victims’ rights in court, and we’re ready to fight for you. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.


How can I identify asbestos wire insulation?

Asbestos wire insulation can be made of paper, cloth and even molded plastic. It may have a rough or fuzzy appearance and is often white-colored. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to identify just by looking at it. If your wire insulation was installed before the mid-1980s, it’s best to have it tested by a professional.

What are the risks of asbestos exposure from wire insulation?

Asbestos exposure of any kind can have negative health effects, and long-term exposure can lead to mesothelioma and other serious diseases. People who are frequently exposed to asbestos wire insulation or were in the past, like electricians, auto mechanics, construction workers and power plant employees, have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma.

How can I protect myself from asbestos exposure in electrical wiring?

If your electrical wiring is in good condition and is in an enclosed area, like a wall, it may be safest to simply leave it alone. However, if it’s damaged, degraded, or you need to replace it, and it was installed before the mid-1980s, you should have it tested and removed by a professional asbestos abatement company.

Request a Free Case Evaluation

Request a free case evaluation now if you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma. The evaluation will cost you nothing. Our lawyers will travel to visit you at your convenience or conference call with you over the phone. We understand how difficult a time this is for you and will assist in any way that we can. You can also call us toll-free at 1-800-336-0086 at any time.