For over 200 years, asbestos packing materials were used in many industries and often lined boiler doors, pumps, and valves. However, the most widespread use of asbestos was on the vessels used by the U.S. Navy, especially during World War II and the Korean Conflict. Asbestos packing is one of the reasons Navy veterans and former civilian workers have suffered from a high rate of asbestos-related illnesses, such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. Other industries that routinely used asbestos packing were power plants, refineries, steel mills, and paper mills.
Asbestos packing is not hazardous when it is intact. However, in order to fit certain applications, it was usually cut, sawed, grinded, sanded, or otherwise manipulated. Damaged packing caused asbestos dust and fibers to escape into the air where they could be inhaled by those working in the area. This was particularly hazardous on navy vessels where quarters are close together and inhalation of the particles was more likely to occur.
It is believed that many individuals knew about the hazards of asbestos packing and other similar materials long before the information was disclosed to the general public. Many employees in various industries were permitted to continue working with asbestos in spite of its dangers. Because they worked unprotected, many have now developed asbestos-related diseases. In addition, family members of shipyard workers and others who were exposed to asbestos packing have become sick because their loved ones brought dangerous asbestos particles home on their clothing and hair.
Today, people who work in jobs where they might encounter asbestos packing, including boilermakers, pipefitters, and steamfitters, should wear protective equipment and be especially careful when working on a structure that might contain asbestos.