Sources of Asbestos Exposure / Asbestos in the U.S. Navy / List of Ship Classes / Asbestos on Merchant Marine Ships
In combat, maintaining the supply lines is every bit as important as holding the front line. The risks are just as great as well. During World War II, the United States merchant marine, which operates ships under both civilian and military control, had a higher casualty rate than destroyers and any other ships in the U.S. Navy. Yet merchant marine sailors didn’t receive official recognition of their military contributions until 1987.
Before it was Banned, Some form of Asbestos Was on Most Sailing Vessels
Coincidentally, the EPA banned asbestos in 1987. If you or a loved one spent any time on board a merchant marine vessel built before then, at sea, in port, or in dry dock, you were most likely exposed to asbestos. This fireproofing material wasn’t just used around boilers, ammunition dumps, or other obvious fire hazards. Internal work, like asbestos ducting, was also very common on these ships. Sometimes, asbestos paper protected duct joints. More frequently, however, shipbuilders wrapped the entire ductwork in asbestos-laced paper.
Sailors and US Naval Veterans at Risk of Asbestos Exposure Aboard Merchant Marine Ships
As mentioned, the people who built these ships, repaired these ships, and served on these ships could have been exposed to asbestos.
By the 1980s, most builders had finally acknowledged the dangers of asbestos. However, during the World War II and Vietnam War merchant marine construction booms, workers often handled asbestos with little or no protective equipment. Masks and gloves do little to protect workers from microscopic asbestos fibers.
Asbestos Exposure and Health Problems from Repairing Merchant Marine Ships
Repair workers may have faced even greater hazards from asbestos exposure. Repair tasks are even more time-sensitive than construction jobs. To many supervisors, outfitting workers is a waste of time. Explaining the dangers of asbestos is even a bigger waste of time. Construction workers usually paid the price.
Also as mentioned, asbestos was pretty much everywhere on most merchant marine ships, since this mineral was cheap and plentiful. Sailors in certain areas, like boilers, could usually identify asbestos and try to avoid it. Most other sailors probably had no idea what asbestos looked like, so they took no steps to avoid it.
Treatments for mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other asbestos-related illnesses are extremely high. Furthermore, these serious conditions are often fatal. Various sources of compensation are available, to ease the pain of these economic and noneconomic losses.
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