Who Were the Merchant Mariners?
Merchant marines worked on merchant ships used to carry imports and exports to and from the U.S. during peacetime, but they became naval auxiliary vessels during the war. The ships were used to transport supplies and goods to troops, and thousands were in use from 1937 to 1947.
During these 10 years alone, over 6,000 boats were built, which meant there was a lot of construction activity in the docks. Unfortunately, all boats made from the 1930s to the early 1980s were made with asbestos-containing products.
Asbestos Exposure Causes Health Problems
Today, asbestos is known to cause deadly illnesses like mesothelioma. These illnesses have no cure.
Veterans from all branches of the military would have been subjected to asbestos at some point in their careers, though Navy veterans — including merchant mariners — were most at risk. Asbestos was widely used as an insulator, particularly in engine rooms and boiler rooms.
A lot of the mariners would have lived and worked together in tight quarters with a lack of ventilation.
Even those who may not have been working in the boiler or engine rooms may have unknowingly contaminated living quarters by carrying asbestos on their clothing, shoes, and hair.
Once these asbestos particles become airborne, they can be incredibly dangerous to those working in such confined spaces. Veterans who served during this time period need to understand the risks of asbestos exposure and what they can do if they get sick.