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Lino Ops and Asbestos

Started by Dave Hughes, December 13, 2006, 04:54:14 PM

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Dave Hughes

I know this subject has been covered before, but I received this email recently from a solicitor in Australia:

QuoteWe are writing to you from a law firm in Melbourne, Australia. We have taken great interest in your site because we are currently representing a man who operated a Linotype Printer for much of his working life. He has recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma. This is a fatal disease contracted because of exposure to asbestos. We believe that there may have been some connection between his work on the Linotype Printer and his exposure to asbestos.

We understand, from the Linecaster Documentary on your website, that asbestos lines the casting pot. This was presumably there to keep the temperature in the pot stable and very hot. What we need to understand specifically is if it could have been possible for this asbestos lining to erode in some way so that asbestos spores may have become air borne. Was there any part of the asbestos that may have been exposed to the operator in some way? For example, was the operator required to clean and maintain the machine where s/he may have come into contact with the asbestos?

Are there any linotype operators that you know of who have become sick with asbestos related illnesses?

Any information you may have in regards to these matters would be greatly appreciated. It would assist us in working out how our client was exposed to asbestos before he passes away. Please contact us on this email address of you have any information:
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Dan Williams

Let me take the first stab at this one.
My experience relates to work and association with two family shops (one-print and one-typeshop) over a span of thirty years.
Yes, asbestos was inside those metal pots, however the asbestos was completely enclosed with the exception of a small quantity around the mouthpiece. That exposed asbestos is not loose, but is cemented and further covered by a sheet metal plate.
From time to time the asbestos was repacked, but frankly this practice varied from shop to shop. In our practice, pots were never routinely repacked except when a metal heating element was exchanged (once or twice to my recollection). Thus, in my experience the asbestos rarely had an opportunity to escape and become airborne.
Lets put things into perspective; during the 70's in the US (and likely in Europe and Australia) asbestos was put into ceilling tile, floor tile, spackling compound, wallboard, blow dryers, heaters, insulation, etc, etc, etc. There were far more extensive areas of exposure to asbestos to an operator than from a fully enclosed heating apparatus. Three important exceptions: in gas flue systems, sometimes people would liberally cover the vent stacks with cemented or rolled asbestos. :( Another exception is if an operator/ machinist routinely worked on numerous machines' heating elements alot without respiration/occupational protection. Finally, what about the remelt furnaces? Sometimes these remelt furnace were thrown-together affairs and the favored insulator was dry-cemented asbestos. Nasty stuff if it gets loose and on a hodge-podge remelt furnace there may be alot of it.
Apart from linotypes, how about asbestos insulation on thermograph heaters and the dry sprays of various kinds. Talcum powder on press tympans?
Thats my contribution.


I agree with Dan Williams on this. The asbestos is in no way easily accessible and in any case it would be the job of the resident engineer to repack the mouthpiece lining. Yeah, maybe thermographic powders, but what we don't know is the size of the operation he worked in. If it was jobbing offices, it could be airborne spray from anti-setoff or even ink-fly. If his employer was recycling metal in-house, it could also be from air-brone contaminants. Just my tuppence worth.
I had both Monotype & Intertype in my printing works - I have the scars to prove it!


I worked as a Linotype mechanic for more than 20 years and, in that time, I have serviced the hot metal pots dozens of times.  In order to access the main heating elements it is not necessary to disturb the asbestos packing, however to replace the throat and mouth heaters, it is necessary to remove the pot from it's jacket thus exposing powdered asbestos.  When the pot is replaced in it's jacket, powered asbestos is packed between the pot and the jacket and asbestos cement is used to seal the powder in.  If it is done correctly, there is little  possibility of the Linotype operator being exposed to asbestos dust. 

The link between cancer related deaths and asbestos was not established until after I retired.  When I heard of this relationship I had myself monitored by my GP for a number of years and all X Rays came back clear.  I do not know of any deaths from asbestosis linked to Linotype machines.  However, the link to asbestos deaths in general was established after I retired. These days I wear a mask when servicing the hot metal pot on linecasting machines.
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast


In early 1960's when we messed with the crucible etc.....
We ditched the asbestos and switched to spun glass insulation.

Only place we used asbestos was around the mouthpiece . . . and that became hard like cement.

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