Asbestos was used on ships for nearly a century before anyone fully understood the health risks associated with this toxic material. Because it is highly resistant to heat and fire, asbestos was used as insulation around boilers, fire doors, and fire boxes. Corporations like Johns-Manville and Raybestos pushed asbestos materials forward to shipbuilders and longshoremen, giving elaborate presentations about the fireproof benefits of asbestos but leaving out any suspicions about health hazards.
Asbestos on Ships
The use of asbestos on ships was highest around World War II. The high risk for fire during combat made asbestos a natural choice to protect the vessels and the crew. Asbestos was used in practically every part of the ship, and this pattern continued even years after the war ended.
Longshoremen were exposed each time they boarded a new ship and even while handling cargo covered in invisible asbestos fibers. For those living and working below deck in cramped spaces with poor ventilation, asbestos exposure was especially dangerous. In addition, the US imported large amounts of asbestos products without taking precautions to protect the health of longshoremen until it was too late.
Risk for Asbestos Diseases
Longshoremen face a high risk for asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma due to ongoing asbestos exposure. In a study conducted in 1980, Dr. Irving Selikoff found that 86% of people who worked on a ship for at least 20 years wound up with some kind of respiratory disease.
While it’s possible to be exposed to asbestos and not contract mesothelioma cancer, it’s pretty rare to escape any type of illness if you have long-term exposure. Asbestosis is one of the most common health problems seen among longshoremen. This condition occurs when tiny fibers of asbestos get lodged in the lungs. The body attempts to attack them as if they were a disease, causing extensive scarring and inflammation. Over the years, the buildup of scar tissue can steadily decrease the lung’s capacity to hold air, eventually leading to shortness of breath and death by suffocation.
Health Monitoring for Longshoremen
If you worked as a longshoreman prior to the 1980s, you most likely encountered some type of asbestos. The length of your exposure can play a significant role in your risk for disease, but even short-term exposures are dangerous. If you have any suspicion that you were exposed to asbestos, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about the risks. Your doctor will most likely schedule routine health monitoring by taking scans of your lungs to watch for signs of mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Asbestos Exposure Lawsuits
There have been thousands of lawsuits related to asbestos exposure over the years. The companies who made, marketed, and sold asbestos materials without revealing the potential health risks have paid out millions of dollars in settlements and court-ordered awards to people who got sick from exposure.
If you worked as a longshoreman and have developed asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma, you may be eligible for compensation. Talk to a mesothelioma attorney today to learn more about your legal options.