Mechanics are exposed to a wide variety of toxic chemicals. Exposure to high levels of those chemicals over a period of time can cause damage to health. Cigarette smoking greatly increases the hazard.

Some of the elements contained in cigarette smoke and the various chemicals found in auto repair work may attack different parts of the respiratory system at the same time.

Carbon monoxide from car exhausts and cigarette smoking is an odorless, colorless gas that reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. Its effects are first felt in those tissues most sensitive to a lack of oxygen, such as the brain and the heart.

Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, followed by weakness, dizziness, dim vision, nausea, and vomiting. At high concentrations, coma and death may result.

Lead from auto exhaust and auto paint is absorbed through the skin and lungs. Excessive lead exposure causes anemia and damages the nervous system.

Sulfuric acid gas and particulate sulfates are found in greater amounts in the exhaust of autos with catalytic converters than in the exhaust of older cars. The symptoms of excessive acid sulfates in the air include irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.

Oils, when inhaled as mists or smoke in large quantities, can cause irritation or chemical pneumonia.

Brake Repair

Brake linings contain large amounts of asbestos, a substance that causes a serious lung disease known as asbestosis and cancer of the lung. The first symptom is shortness of breath. People who work with asbestos may also developmesothelioma, a rare form of cancer of the chest and abdominal cavity.

Those diseases may develop in people exposed to asbestos, whether or not they smoke. However, people who both smoke and work with asbestos are at a much higher risk of developing lung cancer.

Brake fluids may contain chemicals that are irritating to the respiratory system, the skin, and the eyes.

Auto Body Work

Both fiberglass and talc have been used as fillers in body work, in combination with either polyester or epoxy resins. Working with fiberglass warrants precautions to avoid inhalation.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a work place standard for fibrous glass because the fibers slide by the defenses of the respiratory system and become deposited in the lungs.

Styrene, a respiratory irritant, is often used in making polyester resins. Epoxy resins cause allergic sensitivity reactions on the skin. Some epoxy resins produce an asthma-like condition.

Spray painting after fiber glassing or using other surface preparations may cause a number of air contaminants to be released into the environment of a body shop.

Lead and zinc chromates are common primer pigments that can cause lung irritation if inhaled and skin irritation on contact. These pigments have been implicated in causing cancer.

Solvents present in primers and paints may cause respiratory irritation. Solvents may also affect the blood, liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Polyurethane paints for automobile exteriors may contain chemicals that can cause an asthma-like condition.