A stevedore is the same as a longshoreman, a person who loads and unloads ships. There is a case of a man who was a stevedore working on the docks in Australia. His wife says he would frequently come home from work and comment on how dusty it had been that day. His clothes would still be coated in dust that she then would launder them. He worked on the docks in this capacity, loading and unloading whatever ships came in, from 1961 until 1964. In May 1997 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He died in July 1998.
The Austrailan stevedore’s case was unusual since he didn’t have a single employer. Rather, as a dockworker he went to the docks and was employed by whomever needed a job done. Most cases similar to his had resulted in everyone agreeing that the mesothelioma was caused by asbestos inhalation while on the job, but that since no one could pin the liability on a single party, no one was held responsible. In a United States case, for example, a stevedore sued the owner of a warehouse where he had worked for different shipping companies loading and unloading into the warehouse. While everyone agreed that he had been occupationally exposed to asbestos, it was decided that the warehouse owner had no duty to him since he wasn’t actually employed by the warehouse.
Stories of stevedores or longshoremen dying from mesothelioma are far from uncommon. Stories of wives and family members being affected are also not uncommon. A woman was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma that she contracted as a result of laundering her husband’s clothing for many years while he was employed as a longshoreman. He had inadvertently brought the asbestos dust home on his clothing and every time his wife moved his soiled clothing, asbestos fibers were released into the air she breathed.
Even though some of the dangers of asbestos have been known since the time of the ancient Greeks, asbestos was used extensively around the world from the 1940s through the 1970s as an insulator in ship boiler rooms, and was used in more than 3,000 consumer products. The people who loaded and unloaded ships with these products came into contact with asbestos from all these sources. To this day, some ships still have asbestos insulation, and asbestos is still used in many countries including the United States, although not to the same extent that it was used in the past. Every time an asbestos fiber is disturbed, it can slough off tiny particles that remain airborne where they can be inhaled by anyone in the area.
Asbestos is related to a lot of different illnesses including several forms of asbestos cancer, including lung and gastrointestinal cancer, and asbestosis. The most serious of the asbestos-related diseases is mesothelioma. It takes many years for mesothelioma to show up after the initial asbestos exposure. Latency periods of more than 40 years are not uncommon. When the cancer first forms the only symptom is shortness of breath while exercising. This is so subtle that a lot of people don’t realize it is a symptom at all. As the cancer gets worse, the symptoms of mesothelioma also become more significant. If mesothelioma is caught early, the tumor may be removed. If it is not caught early, surgery is less effective. At that point, treatment is more likely to consist of a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, sometimes along with surgery. The goal with advanced mesothelioma is to slow its growth. There is no cure for mesothelioma. Few people live more than two years after its initial diagnosis.