AMFELS, a shipbuilding and repair facility in Brownsville, played a dominant role in the country’s maritime industry during the last century. Though ownership has changed in the past, the company’s purpose and facilities have remained constant. During both World Wars, the business had many contracts with the US Navy that made it very prosperous. At its height, AMFELS employed thousands of workers to build and maintain a variety of ships. After the wars it was used mainly for commercial purposes.
A common material used in those days for insulating, chemical protection, and fire resistance was asbestos. Of course, today it is known as a dangerous carcinogen with the potential for causing cancer. During the beginning of the 20th century it was simply viewed as a low cost alternative for protecting sailor from fire at sea and high temperatures created in boiler rooms. During the process of installation and removal, dust can be released that is easily inhaled. Many shipyard workers were constantly required to be in situations where they could not avoid inhaling the substance.
Once workers had taken in the fine particulates, they remained in their body for the rest of their lives. After many decades, cells that protect the lungs, heart and stomach can become damaged. If they are degraded enough, these cells can turn cancerous. It is this exposure to asbestos that is linked directly to mesothelioma. Though it is rare, many shipbuilding employees are thought to be at a heightened risk of developing the illness. There are a myriad of other disease that can be caused by exposure as well.
Ironically, the protective equipment that was issued during those days was actually made of asbestos. It allowed for employees to be protected from the immediate dangers posed by high heat and caustic chemicals that were used to create ships. When working, the protective gear would break down and be inhaled. This is one of the leading causes of mesothelioma, and many workers simply weren’t aware that they were even being exposed to the material. Even individuals that had not worked directly with it but had second hand exposure are thought to be at risk.
Mesothelioma is rare, and occurs in a small percentage of people that have been exposed. Those that do develop symptoms often go undetected and relate their problems to more common afflictions.tex