Little information or history on Washington state’s Tacoma Drydock exists. However, it is very likely that this shipyard used asbestos throughout its operational history. In fact, we know that virtually all shipyards used asbestos materials throughout their history of routine ship repairs before the material was regulated.
Asbestos has been used in a variety of applications. Many ships were insulated with asbestos, seeing its use in pipes, gaskets, boilers, valves, ceilings, turbines, and floors. In most uses, asbestos was incorporated safely into the ship. However, asbestos tends to deteriorate and crumble when it is in contact with extreme heat. In these cases, asbestos fibers are released into a dust that can be inhaled. These fibers then frequently build up in the lungs, heart, or abdominal cavities of shipyard workers and cause inflammation that leads to mesothelioma.
As a direct result of working with asbestos, many workers at the Tacoma Drydocks have an increased risk of developing diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and asthma. Mesothelioma is an environmental cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. Even if the amount of exposure time is limited, research suggests workers can still develop the disease. Many workers come into contact with asbestos for as little as 1 to 3 months yet still develop mesothelioma.
Furthermore, many of the symptoms of this disease may appear to be flu-like or seem similar to another minor illness. Symptoms of mesothelioma include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain, pleural effusion, and abdominal pain. One’s family can also suffer from asbestos due to a condition known as paraoccupational secondary exposure. This type of exposure frequently impacted family members who came in direct contact with the clothes of the worker that originally touched the material, putting them at risk for developing mesothelioma.
Many of the symptoms of mesothelioma do not show up until 20 to 50 years after initial exposure. Typically, many workers do not find out they have mesothelioma until years later when the disease has progressed to the advanced stages. Mesothelioma is more treatable when it is found in its early stages and has a higher recovery rate for those trying to combat this disease.