Mesothelioma and Veterans: Cancer Risk Among Shipyard Workers

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer primarily caused by asbestos exposure. Due to extensive use of asbestos on naval vessels, thousands of employees in the shipyard industry have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. Cases are expected to increase because the incidence of mesothelioma is predicted to peak around 2020. Asbestos was widely used […]

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer primarily caused by asbestos exposure. Due to extensive use of asbestos on naval vessels, thousands of employees in the shipyard industry have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. Cases are expected to increase because the incidence of mesothelioma is predicted to peak around 2020.

Asbestos was widely used throughout the shipyard industry for its durability effective fireproofing capabilities. It also served as a good insulator throughout Navy vessels. Because of these beneficial characteristics, asbestos was integrated into nearly all naval ships from the World War II era through the 1980s.

Every year approximately 2,000 to 3,000 people are diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in the United States. Navy veterans and shipyard workers make up a significant amount of those diagnosed because of their service-related asbestos exposure.

Due to a long latency period, the symptoms of mesothelioma may take as long as 20 to 50 years to develop following a person’s initial exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma symptoms resemble those of more common conditions, such as pneumonia, and doctors may initially overlook mesothelioma as a potential diagnosis. This misdiagnosis can result in a delayed accurate diagnosis at a time when the cancer has already reached later stages of development, which can greatly affect the treatment process.

Some of the Navy vessels that were constructed with asbestos-containing materials include aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines and auxiliary vessels. Areas on board that commonly contained the toxic mineral included boiler rooms, sleeping quarters, pipes, gaskets and various parts that needed to be insulated.

Navy crew members aboard contaminated ships faced the risk of exposure through everyday tasks and especially during combat if the vessel was damaged. Additionally, when ships returned to port for overhauls and maintenance, shipyard workers were at risk of exposure through repairing and replacing asbestos-containing parts. Unfortunately, most shipyard workers were not provided proper protective gear to reduce or prevent asbestos exposure.

Throughout the 1970s the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enacted regulations for occupational asbestos exposure and the management of asbestos-containing materials. As a preventative measure, previous shipyard workers and Navy veterans who suspect they may have been exposed to asbestos are advised to seek annual medical examinations to test for signs of asbestos exposure. This simple preventative measure can help to identify early signs of asbestos-related disease and can offer patients the most hope for effective treatment. (Asbestos.com)

 

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