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Shipyard Workers - Mesothelioma Risks

The occupations with the highest mortality rates for malignant mesothelioma are shipbuilders and ship repairers. Even those who did not work directly on the ships themselves, but who simply worked in or near a shipyard - custodial workers, civilian contractors, Navy security personnel, and others - may face a higher-than-average risk for contracting this asbestos cancer.

Shipyard workers have been exposed to such extremely high amount of asbestos, because this material was so extensively used during the time period from World War II through the 1970s and even into the 1980s. In fact, the military mandated asbestos' use for a period, so vital was it considered in the effort to prevent fires on board ships. Asbestos, a fibrous mineral which can be found all over the world, has remarkable properties to withstand heat, flame, corrosion and electricity. Combined with its tensile strength, durability and flexibility - asbestos fibers could be woven into fabric, added to building material mixes such as cement mix, and incorporated into pipes and joint compound - these qualities made it invaluable for both military and civilian construction and shipbuilding purposes.

What the Navy seamen and civilian workers who were exposed to this material did not know, however, is that asbestos can be a highly toxic material when its fibers are damaged or broken. They disintegrate into microscopic particles, unable to be seen by the naked eye but nevertheless very dangerous. When these particles are inhaled, they lodge themselves into the body's membranes, organs and soft tissues - where they can then develop into mesothelioma, a rare yet very aggressive cancer of the membrane protecting the lungs.

Mesothelioma can take up to 50 years to develop, so shipyard workers who may have been involved with asbestos-containing materials back in their heyday may still not yet be symptomatic. Even when symptoms do develop, they may often be mistaken for symptoms of other illnesses, diseases or conditions, such as bronchitis, the common cold, influenza or even aging. A physician who doesn't know that the patient was a shipyard worker, or has possibly experienced asbestos exposure, may be more likely to misdiagnose mesothelioma. Unfortunately, this means that by the time the cancer is correctly diagnosed, it may have become inoperable and metastasized throughout the body.

Those who perform the necessary work to repair or decommission older ships may remain at a high level of risk for mesothelioma. Any ship built before the 1980s may contain massive amounts of asbestos, and when that material is disturbed or broken, it can release its deadly fibers into the air. Proper precautions, including the use of respirators and protective clothing, must be taken by all shipyard workers. Additionally, since asbestos dust can cling to fiber and hair, workers should shower before leaving the job-site and make sure to launder or dispose of their gear correctly. Sadly, there have been documented cases of workers' wives and children contracting mesothelioma after repeated contact with a worker whose clothes were routinely contaminated by asbestos.

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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