Asbestos exposure in ship repair work caused high rates of mesothelioma and other asbestos illnesses in this group of workers. Asbestos exposure in ship repair may occur today, even though regulations have limited its use. Older ships still contain asbestos materials, which, when disturbed by repairs, can cause exposure in workers.
Where Asbestos Is Found on Ships and in Ship Repair Materials
In older ships, asbestos can be found in almost every area and component:
- Tile flooring
- Welding gloves
- Firefighting gear
Asbestos is also often found in repair materials that workers used, like glues, sealants, and putties, and in the tools they used to make repairs.
How Do Ship Repair Workers Get Exposed to Asbestos?
Asbestos used in the construction and repair of ships does not have to be harmful. It is only dangerous when fibers become airborne. If well encapsulated, asbestos poses little or no risk. While asbestos materials are used with less frequency today, they must be well-contained, reducing the risk of airborne fibers.
If regulations are not followed, ship repair becomes dangerous. It is also dangerous in places where there is damage to otherwise encapsulated asbestos materials, making them friable. For example, concrete with asbestos is considered safe and non-friable.
Normal handling of concrete will not crush it or expose asbestos fibers. However, if the concrete is damaged or crumbling, workers are at risk of exposure to airborne fibers of asbestos, especially if employers do not take proper safety precautions.
Shipping is not the only industry with extensive asbestos use. However, several factors explain why ship workers are at greater risk:
- One is the high use of asbestos in the building and the repair of ships. In decades past, shipbuilding companies used it in almost every part of the ship and the putties and materials used for repair.
- The use of blue and brown asbestos in shipbuilding is another contributing factor. These most dangerous types of asbestos were most often used in ships.
- Spraying, one of the most dangerous ways to apply asbestos and asbestos-containing materials, was also used extensively in shipbuilding.
How Does Asbestos Make Ship Repair Workers Sick?
With the building boom of the industrial revolution, the amount of asbestos used in ships and construction skyrocketed. By 1910, the global use of asbestos exceeded 100,000 tons.
There are many reasons ship repair workers should be concerned about asbestos exposure. When asbestos is friable, or not encapsulated, it can be easily crushed or disturbed. Once disturbed, asbestos releases fibers into the air, where they can be easily inhaled or ingested. These tiny fibers lodge in the lungs and other tissues, causing cell damage.
Over time, fibers lodged in tissues can lead to several serious health conditions. Most often, asbestos fibers stay in and around the lungs where they can cause asbestosis, lung cancer, or pleural mesothelioma.
The fibers can also migrate, causing mesothelioma in other parts of the body, including around the heart and lining of abdominal organs.
Mesothelioma is a particularly devastating cancer. It is often misdiagnosed or remains undiagnosed until its later stages. At this point, mesothelioma is difficult to treat. At late stages of the disease, a diagnosis represents a grim prognosis for former ship repair workers.
Is Asbestos Still Used in Ships and Ship Repair?
The government enacted new asbestos regulations in 1976. Before that year, asbestos was used extensively to build and repair ships.
Today, shipyard workers are still at risk of exposure due to older ships still in use. Also, asbestos is still used in ship construction today, although not with the prevalence of years past.
Ship Repair Workers at High Risk of Asbestos Illnesses, According to Research
Anyone who worked in a shipyard was at risk of asbestos exposure and later illness. Studies show that those involved in repair or working near repair tasks on ships have some of the highest rates of asbestos illnesses:
- A U.S. study investigated the exposure and risk of ship repairers. This study researched 286 workers in the ship repair business for more than thirty years. Of the ship repair workers studied, 86% had signs of asbestosis, an asbestos-related respiratory disorder. Five of the workers were found to have previously undiagnosed lung cancer.
- International studies have found similar results. In an Italian study of 153 men that died from mesothelioma, most worked in or around ships. Ninety-nine worked in shipbuilding and repair, and seven were dockworkers or longshoremen.
- A more recent U.S. report found the results of asbestos exposure continue to be seen in ship repair workers and shipbuilders. Between 1990 and 1999, when the cause of death listed on death certificates was asbestosis, the second most frequently recorded industry was shipbuilding and ship repair. In 1999, the shipbuilding and repairing industry had the most recorded fatalities from malignant mesothelioma.
Can Ship Repair Workers Get Compensation for Asbestos Illnesses?
If you work in ship repair and have been exposed to asbestos due to employer or manufacturer negligence, you may be eligible for compensation. Many industry workers have sued after being diagnosed with asbestosis, mesothelioma, or other related conditions.
A mesothelioma lawyer can help you make your case and provide guidance for accessing mesothelioma trust funds. These are just two examples of shipyard repair workers who were able to get compensation through lawsuits:
- Richard Walmach filed a lawsuit against Foster Wheeler after working as a Navy machinist at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for decades. He worked in repair and used a jackhammer to remove asbestos insulation from boilers made by the company. Walmach died from mesothelioma after filing the lawsuit, but his family won a $5.2 million jury award.
- Bert Minton worked as a repair supervisor at Newport News Shipbuilding during peak asbestos years. He developed mesothelioma decades later. He sued Exxon over the asbestos on its oil tankers that led to his illness. He won a $25 million award against the company.
If you or a loved one have a mesothelioma diagnosis and worked in a shipyard, contact an asbestos law firm. You have a right to seek compensation for the negligent harm asbestos companies caused.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.