How Were Shipyard Workers Exposed to Asbestos?
For many years, people who worked in shipyards across the country—from builders to electricians to janitors—may have been exposed to hazardous asbestos-containing materials just by showing up for work every day. But how did this happen?
Before the dangers of asbestos were discovered and made public, many manufacturers hailed it as a “miracle mineral.” Due to its outstanding resilience and heat-resistant properties, dozens of companies used asbestos as a key ingredient in the production of thousands of products—many of which were used in the shipbuilding industry. In a shipyard environment, workers could be exposed to asbestos-containing materials almost anywhere. Specific products included insulation, boilers, valves, gaskets, incinerators, and more. Even after companies started to learn about the dangers of asbestos, many continued to put workers at risk by choosing to protect their profits instead of disclosing the facts.
When one is working in a shipyard, most daily activities revolve around constructing new ships, renovating existing ships, or breaking down old ships. This type of work, unfortunately, creates high-risk situations for asbestos exposure. How? Undisturbed, asbestos-containing materials are not necessarily dangerous. However, as parts and materials wear down or break, tiny asbestos fibers can be released into the air, where they might be inhaled by anyone working in the area. The very process of taking apart or rebuilding ships could increase the chances of releasing asbestos fibers into the air.
Research Shows Real Asbestos Threat in Shipyards
Around the world, researchers have conducted several studies that take a closer look at the specific asbestos exposure risks shipyard workers have faced in the past and continue to confront today.
A 2007 study by William S. Beckett published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine calls asbestos “a persistent and international problem” for shipyard workers. He notes that because it took so long for the dangers of asbestos to be made public, many shipyard workers may have been exposed for decades—even after occupational health experts began to recognize the hazards in the 1940s. By the 1960s and 1970s, asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma began to appear in the chest X-rays of not just the shipyard workers who had direct contact with asbestos-containing materials but also of shipyard office workers and security guards who had no direct contact with asbestos-containing products. Unfortunately, the dangers didn’t stop at the shipyard gates. Even family members of those who worked in these environments may have developed mesothelioma due to secondhand exposure from asbestos dust unknowingly brought home on work clothes.