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Sailors & Deckhands - Mesothelioma Risks

Workers in the shipbuilding and shipyard industries are among those with the highest risk for asbestos exposure and mesothelioma. From the 1940s until the 1980s, asbestos was used constantly for construction of ships and was put into almost every material possible. During this time, asbestos was used to make these things safer, especially in the construction of buildings, homes and ships.

When added to another material, such as concrete, insulation or metal, the asbestos makes a product stronger, heat and flame resistant, and boosts its insulation abilities. It was also an effective barrier for pressure and sound, which are among the biggest concerns on a ship or submarine. It was perfect for shipbuilding, because it made the vessels last longer and kept those on board safer while at sea. Unknown to many, however, the asbestos was actually doing more harm instead of keeping them safe. Asbestos is a harmful fiber that can easily be released into the air; it has put thousands of sailors and deckhands at risk for developing the rare cancer mesothelioma.

The biggest use of asbestos on ships was for insulation purposes. The material was heavily added to the insulation covering the ships' wiring, as well as the insulation surrounding boiler rooms and pipe fittings. Sailors and deckhands were often in charge of replacing and repairing this insulation, and working around it on a daily basis. When material containing asbestos is disturbed, the fibers are easily released. Sometimes, up to six million fibers can be released in just a few square feet. The fibers can also attach to clothing, creating the opportunity for them to do damage later on even if the sailor was wearing a protective mask at the time. When these fibers are breathed in, they become trapped in the mesothelium, the membrane that lines our vital organs, and the lungs in particular.

Asbestos fibers are small, but can do a lot of damage. Scar tissue and inflammation are just some of the effects, with mesothelioma being the worst of all. Mesothelioma can begin slowly, often near the lungs, and develop over a number of years without the person knowing. Symptoms of mesothelioma often do not start until the tumor has progressed significantly. This is when patients tend to go in for a diagnosis. By this point, the patient may be in stage III or IV mesothelioma, the highest and most advanced stages. Unfortunately, the life expectancy for many mesothelioma patients is only 2 or 3 years beyond diagnosis.

Sailors and deckhands were part of an industry with the highest mesothelioma mortality rate. Those who are exposed to asbestos occupationally, as these men and women were, have a more than 300 percent chance of developing mesothelioma than the average person does. Constant exposure over many years puts one more at risk, and sailors and deckhands are among those who may develop mesothelioma. However, the cancer can lay dormant for decades, and often does not show or begin to develop for years or even decades after exposure. Former sailors and deckhands should have regular visits with their physician to monitor their health and frequently check for mesothelioma. Early detection can make a significant difference in the prognosis and treatment of the patient.


Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

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

Last Edited: Sun July 26, 2020