Until asbestos was pinpointed as a highly dangerous material, it found heavy use in shipyards. Along with ensuring a vessel’s water-tight hull, shipbuilders also must protect against the risk of fire on board, which is among the greatest threats against sea traveler. As a result, many shipyards utilized this material in one form or another to help insulate against fire. This practice began at the start of the twentieth century and continued until the regulation of asbestos began in the 1970s. Furthermore, asbestos is naturally resistant to chemical corrosion, in addition to heat and fire.
Its effectiveness and relative inexpensiveness made it an ideal material for use as an insulator for incinerators, boilers, steam pipes and hot water pipes. However, that frequent usage posed a threat to everyone connected with these ships, including the captain, crew and longshoremen who loaded the vessel. However, it was the shipyard workers who were most at risk for unhealthy levels of exposure to this material, as they worked with it most closely during its installation in ships.
In addition, shipyard workers were responsible for the repair and overhaul of these vessels, further putting them at risk for coming into contact with the dangerous materials inside. Unfortunately, the more extensive the required repairs or overhaul, the greater the shipyard worker’s risk of coming into contact with asbestos onboard were. When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, the Navy’s demand for vessels dramatically increased, leading to an expanded need for shipyard laborers.
This directly contributed to the increased number of Americans that developed mesothelioma in the years following. In fact, shipyard workers exposed during World War II died of mesothelioma at nearly the same rate of uniformed soldiers during actual conflict. Furthermore, these men and women working for the war effort regularly performed repairs on damaged vessels which might have even greater quantities of asbestos dispersed throughout the ship. Nevertheless, all shipyards workers employed before modern regulation took hold remain at risk of developing mesothelioma, as illustrated by the thousands of former workers who have been claimed by this disease.