Since 1934, when a U.S. law was enacted to protect all ship components on ocean-going vessels from fire, asbestos has been widely used to insulate boilers in the engine rooms of both commercial and military ships.
Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma
The insulation surrounding boilers and pipes on ships were covered in asbestos jackets or asbestos cement in order to protect them from fire. Due to the close quarters on a ship, when repair or maintenance was necessary asbestos-containing materials were often disturbed, putting anyone on the ship at risk of inhaling the toxic fibers. The development of malignant mesothelioma has been almost exclusively linked with asbestos exposure.
Because asbestos fibers are lightweight, they can remain suspended in the air for long periods of time. Boiler room workers often carried these fibers on their clothing to other parts of the ship, exposing other shipmates to the dust.
For numerous years, asbestos was the primary material from which parts for boilers and other heat-producing units were created. Due to the cutting or manipulation that is often necessary required to properly fit parts inside the boiler, asbestos fibers could be easily released and inhaled or ingested, resulting in risk of disease later in life. Additionally, the sealants that were used to patch their pipes commonly contained asbestos that easily broke down under the extreme heat that boilers produce.
Boilers were not only used in ships, they were often used in commercial buildings as well. Well-made boilers can last decades, continuing to expose boilermakers and engine room workers to the deadly asbestos fibers that insulate them. In fact, thousands of boilers around the country still contain asbestos materials and put the workers that maintain them at serious risk.
Due to the long latency period associated with mesothelioma, symptoms for the disease may not show up until 20 to 50 years after initial exposure to asbestos. As such, boilermakers and boiler room workers should seek regular checkups to test for signs of asbestos-related disease. Catching asbestos-related disease early is important for effective treatment options.
Additional information about mesothelioma and occupational asbestos exposure may be found through the Mesothelioma Center.