Asbestos Disease Risk: Ship Building, Repair and Demolition Workers

Shipbuilders are at elevated risk of asbestos-related diseases.

San Francisco's historic Pier 70 is a reminder of the dangers shipyard workers have faced for many decades from asbestos exposure. According to The San Francisco Examiner, the 70-acre industrial site on the waterfront that has hosted shipbuilding and other heavy industry since the Gold Rush is contaminated with asbestos and other toxins. Plans for revitalization include necessary environmental remediation.

It is widely reported that people who worked building, overhauling, maintaining and decommissioning large ships in private industry and for the government over at least the last century were exposed to elevated levels of asbestos fibers released into the air when ship components containing asbestos were disturbed during these processes.

Other types of workers such as office workers employed in shipyards were also exposed to airborne asbestos. At risk too were family members who came into contact with it when workers carried it home on their clothes and bodies. Shipyards were sometimes further contaminated and other workers exposed when loads of raw asbestos and asbestos-containing materials were loaded onto and unloaded from ships in ports.

Asbestos is a microscopic mineral with long, strong fibers that are highly heat resistant. As such, it has been used in a wide variety of industrial (and consumer) materials in the industrial age. Unfortunately, when asbestos-containing materials are disturbed in any way, asbestos fibers are released into the surrounding air and breathed in by workers, who then are at elevated risk of cancer and other diseases caused by asbestos in the lungs and body.

It usually decades for these diseases to develop, explaining the phenomena of elderly, retired shipyard workers who have been stricken with:

  • Mesothelioma: a terminal cancer in the linings surrounding the lungs, heart, and abdomen
  • Asbestosis: an incurable lung disease from asbestos-induced scarring causing breathing problems.
  • Lung cancer: magnified synergistically when the victim smoked tobacco
  • And more

In shipbuilding, asbestos-containing materials have been used for their heat-resistant properties in insulation, packing, and gaskets in and around ship components like steam pipes, turbines, boilers, and other equipment; behind walls and ceilings; on bulkheads, and in concrete, tile, walls, ceilings, doors, glue, sealants, electric cables, and more.

Seek legal counsel

According to The Motorship, a periodical for marine professionals, 85 percent of new ships continue to include asbestos, due to differing asbestos standards around the world. Unfortunately, this means that asbestos will continue to be a harmful aspect of shipbuilding and related jobs, but today's exposures will not manifest in disease for the most part for decades.

If you or a loved one has developed mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis or another disease that could be asbestos-related and there is a history of shipbuilding work or other shipyard jobs, it is advisable to consult with an experienced asbestos injury attorney as soon as possible to understand your legal rights and potential legal remedies. It is important to talk to a personal injury, wrongful death, workers compensation, Jones Act, or Longshore lawyer who understands the intricacies of asbestos litigation.

Keywords: shipbuilder, asbestos, repair, demolition, ship, shipyard worker, decommission, cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, litigation, injury, lawsuit