Asbestos
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Longshoremen - Mesothelioma Risks

Of all the occupational groups that have an elevated risk of exposure to asbestos, and therefore to the asbestos cancer mesothelioma, longshoremen and other shipyard workers are at the top of the list.

Asbestos, which was widely used throughout the twentieth century in many different industrial and commercial applications because of its strength, flexibility and resistance to heat and flame, was nowhere as prevalent as in the shipping and shipbuilding industries. Materials which contained asbestos were used to insulate turbines, pipes, gaskets, compressors, steam pumps, boilers, and even the living quarters of the seamen. Asbestos would have been present wherever there was a risk of high temperatures or fire. It was also used as a component of many other common materials, such as wire, cables, shingles, floor and ceiling tiles, cement sheeting, stage curtains, protective clothing, joint compound and drywall - just to name a few - that would have been loaded onto ships. It's easy to see why longshoremen, who worked loading this cargo onto ships, would have been exposed to asbestos on a near-constant basis, for the length of their career. It's also quite possible that the longshoremen would have loaded bundles of raw asbestos fibers onto the ships for transport to manufacturing facilities.

Despite its many useful properties, asbestos is highly carcinogenic. When its microscopic fibers are released into the air during mining, manufacturing, construction, repair or demolition of asbestos-containing products and structures, they can be inhaled. These fibers eventually end up in the lungs, where they embed themselves into the surrounding tissues. Particularly vulnerable is a membrane called the mesothelium, which both surrounds the lungs and lines the chest cavity. When the asbestos fibers nestle in the mesothelium, they can develop into the rare cancer called mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is unusual because it has a long latency period. It can be years, or even decades, before the disease is diagnosed. Its symptoms are slow to develop and vague in nature, often resembling the symptoms of other respiratory illnesses and diseases, such as asthma, pneumonia and emphysema. Since mesothelioma most often is found in people over the age of 50, some patients even mistake the symptoms of the disease, such as fatigue and shortness of breath, as the signs of aging.

The treatments for mesothelioma are similar to the treatments for other cancers, primarily chemotherapy and radiation. Both of these can be used in the early stages of mesothelioma to stop the spread of the cancer and shrink existing tumors, and in the later stages to help ease the patient's pain and improve their breathing. Surgery is not usually an option for mesothelioma patients, since it is only viable in the first stage of the cancer, and it's rarely ever diagnosed that early.

Although most people believe that asbestos products have been banned in the United States, the substance is still legally allowable in small quantities in certain consumer products. Additionally, it remains in homes, factories, ships, cars, and other items across the country. Despite the health risks of asbestos, it continues to pose a problem to hundreds of thousands of people across the country, including longshoremen and their families.

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Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Below are a list of occupations and trades that were at risk for asbestos exposure:

Last Edited: Thu November 14, 2013