Crew Members Exposed to Asbestos

Asbestos has been used in the maritime industry for several decades. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines asbestos as “a mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant.” Asbestos was often used in insulation of fire doors, around boilers and as lining in fire boxes. Due to the awareness of the dangers posed by asbestos exposure, the EPA and CPSC have banned several asbestos products. However, asbestos is still frequently found on sea-going vessels.

Crew members on ocean going ships and vessels who work in the engine rooms are at a high risk of asbestos exposure due to the poor ventilation in this area of the ship. Longshoremen may be exposed to asbestos when they load and unload cargo and ship repair workers required to tear out and update engine rooms, exhaust systems and asbestos covered pipes. Asbestos exposure on ships can be damaging to the maritime worker’s health and symptoms may not surface for 25-45 years.

There are no immediate symptoms of asbestos exposure, but workers who are exposed are at risk of developing chest and abdominal cancers and lung diseases. The longer the exposure to asbestos, the higher the chances of developing cancer or another serious disease. Mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest and abdominal linings, is caused by inhaling the most dangerous asbestos fibers, which are too small to be visible. Lung cancer is also caused by exposure to asbestos and the risk is even higher if the worker is a smoker.

One of the most common diseases associated with asbestos exposure is known as asbestosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, asbestosis can be defined as “a breathing disorder caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.” The Mayo Clinic goes on to explain that prolonged accumulation of asbestos fibers in the lungs can result in scarring of lung tissue and difficulty breathing.

The effects of long-term asbestos exposure may not surface for at least 20 to 30 years later. Damage and scarring that resulted from exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to stiffness in the lung tissue, which prohibits the lungs from contracting and expanding as normal. Once this stiffness occurs, the symptoms usually follow. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, decreased physical activity, coughing, chest pain and finger clubbing.

It is impossible to reverse the damage caused by asbestos exposure. There are remedies available that help treat the symptoms of asbestosis. Doctors often prescribe medications or supplemental oxygen. In some cases, the physician may recommend draining fluid from around the lungs. Severe cases of asbestosis may warrant a lung transplantation. Surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be an option for those afflicted with mesothelioma.

If you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos while working aboard a ship or vessel, you may be entitled to compensation under the Jones Act or remedies under the General Maritime Laws. Contact our law firm for a free consultation with a mesothelioma attorney who handles asbestos exposure injury lawsuits.