Shipyard Asbestos, Mesothelioma and You

Exposure to shipyard asbestos has caused thousands of retired navy personnel to develop mesothelioma and other related illnesses. To understand the direct link between asbestos and terminal cancer, as well as whether or not you may have been at risk for exposure, continue reading the article below.

Mesothelioma is a rare but serious type of cancer, which attacks the thin sheet of tissue that covers most of our bodies’ internal organs. Those most commonly affected are the lungs (covered by the pleura) and the stomach cavity (covered by the peritoneum). Diseases of these two organs are called pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, respectively.

There is no known cure for mesothelioma, and its victims generally have a relatively short life expectancy after diagnosis—often a year or less. Around 3000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year, and about 30 percent of victims are veterans of the U.S. Navy.

Shipyard asbestos is the culprit behind most cases of mesothelioma in veterans. Overall, exposure to asbestos is linked to about 80 percent of mesothelioma cases—it is the primary identifiable cause of the disease

Until the 1980s, asbestos was routinely used in the construction of naval ships. It could be found in the walls, doors, insulation and mechanical parts of a vessel. In all likelihood, the hazardous material went unnoticed by those who came into contact with it. Though inherently dangerous, the fine dust of asbestos fibers would have looked innocuous enough and wouldn’t have typically raised concern amongst workers.

Many veterans who were exposed to shipyard asbestos do not realize they are at risk until it is too late. The earlier mesothelioma is caught and treatment is begun, the better the prognosis for its victim. Most cases of veterans’ mesothelioma do not appear until many years after exposure—typically two or more decades—making it difficult for those at risk to be vigilant about monitoring potential symptoms.

Those who are most likely to be at risk are naval services members who worked on ships that were constructed in the 1970s or before. By the 1980s, asbestos had all but been eliminated in the manufacturing industries. Working on older ships also increased the risk of exposure, as asbestos becomes more brittle and likely to break apart—releasing a toxic dust into the air—as it ages.

Some of the positions that were most likely to come into regular contact with asbestos include machinists and boiler room technicians, however because it could be found even in mess halls and sleeping quarters, anyone aboard was likely to have experienced exposure. Through secondary exposure, those living in the same household as an asbestos-exposed shipman were also at risk—fibers could be carried into the home on skin and clothing.

Anyone who believes they may have been regularly exposed to shipyard asbestos should be mindful of the presence of any early mesothelioma symptoms, a list of which can be found here.