Voyage Repair Station Port Angeles is one of the busiest and most active shipyards in Puget Sound, accessible to ships in the Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver areas. Its location at the first inbound anchorage on the Strait of Juan de Fuca makes it a convenient location and ensures it enjoys steady business. The shipyard provides 24-hour repair services and deep-water berths, as well as cranes which can lift and carry ships weighing up to 100 tons.
However, like many others, this shipyard also must face the risks associated with asbestos, a mineral commonly used in ship repairs. Exposure to asbestos is a problem that nearly every shipyard faces, even today after government regulation.
Prolonged exposure to asbestos can result in several diseases, including some that are deadly. One of the most common, caused by asbestos being inhaled or swallowed in small quantities over a long period of time, is a cancer called mesothelioma. Those suffering from this disease will first note a shortness of breath and chest pains. These symptoms are caused by fluid buildup in the lungs. Tumors also develop in the lung’s lining. If a worker is diagnosed with mesothelioma, diagnostic tests can indicate whether the tumors are cancerous. In advanced cases, the tumors can also spread to other organs, causing a potential shutdown of bodily functions.
Outside of mining, the other key industry that routinely involves asbestos exposure is shipyard work. This is because many pipes, boilers and other shipyard equipment were insulated with asbestos. Additionally, shipyard workers often work in small enclosed spaces, increasing the risk of breathing in air contaminated with asbestos. Although asbestos exposure is monitored and there are safety measures to reduce exposure, the risk of such exposure remains today. Though asbestos is no longer used in ship construction, the frequent contact shipyard workers have with this material through older ships makes it a continued threat.