The majority of the ships that were constructed or repaired between World War II and the 1970s were heavily contaminated with asbestos-containing materials. Areas aboard vessels that typically included these hazardous materials were boiler rooms, sleeping quarters and areas that required insulation such as piping and walls.
Because of the close quarters and continuous use of ships during the war, materials that contained toxic asbestos fibers were constantly damaged. Crew members would often bump into the walls and pipes that contained asbestos, which led to the dispersion of asbestos fibers into the air. In addition to the everyday wear and tear aboard ships, the age of the ship contributed to asbestos exposure because the natural deterioration of materials released asbestos fibers as well.
Those that were heavily exposed to asbestos in the shipyard industry include welders, painters, machinists and others who made repairs on board. Many of the workers and crew members did not have access to preventative gear to protect them from exposure. In most circumstances, the workers and crew members were completely unaware that exposure to asbestos carried any risk at all.
Today, asbestos is considered a very hazardous material that is known to cause several forms of asbestos-related disease, including lung cancer, asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Many shipyard employees have either passed away or have been diagnosed with the disease and more are expected as the latency period associated with mesothelioma is 20 to 50 years.
Workers or past crew members that may have experienced asbestos exposure from the shipyard industry should seek routine examinations for signs of asbestos exposure. Receiving a diagnosis during the early stages of development not only provides more treatment options, but gives a person a better chance of experiencing positive effects from treatment.
Additional information about mesothelioma and shipyards may be found through the Mesothelioma Center.