The extensive use of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials in ship and submarine construction has led to a growing concern among the military personnel and civilians who have worked in the shipbuilding industry.
Shipyards are the workplace for a number of occupations, including construction workers, electricians, mechanics, longshoremen, carpenters, plumbers and Naval personnel. All of these workers would most likely have been exposed to high levels of asbestos, particularly if they worked in shipyards from the late 1930s to the mid-1970s.
Asbestos is well known for its insulating and fireproofing qualities as well as its ability to resist corrosion and high temperatures. It is also famous for its strength and durability – all qualities that make it extremely valuable in ships. A wide array of products and items, including boilers, hot water pipes, steam pipes, valves, incinerators and electrical wiring contained asbestos. The Navy actually mandated the use of asbestos-containing products in more than 300 items, despite the fact that its health hazards have been known to the military since at least 1939.
For any of these workers, compounding the problem was the tendency for asbestos dust to accumulate. Because the ships typically had inadequate ventilation systems, undertaking duties in these cramped quarters would have exposed any number of workers to asbestos exposure.
When asbestos is disturbed or broken, it can release microscopic, needle-like fibers into the air. These fibers, although they cannot be seen by the naked eye, can easily be inhaled or swallowed. The fibers settle into the mesothelium, the protective membrane surrounding most of the internal organs. From there, the fibers can cause healthy cells to become cancerous. The result, mesothelioma is often not diagnosed until decades after the asbestos exposure first occurred.
Below you will find a list of shipyards where workers may have been exposed to asbestos: