Asbestos Use in Navy Minesweepers
As asbestos was versatile, inexpensive and lightweight, it made the ideal substance in ship construction. Asbestos was also notoriously flame-retardant, making it useful around high-heat objects, like engine boilers.
Asbestos-Based Protective Clothing
One of the most unfortunate ways in which workers were exposed was through their own ‘protective’ clothing. They were often given gloves made from asbestos to handle hot equipment on the ship.
Vermiculite wall insulation was also used in living quarters to protect workers from potential fires elsewhere on the vessel.
Asbestos was not deemed dangerous when it remained whole, but over time the fibers in the asbestos began to break up and become airborne.
Whenever routine maintenance was carried out on minesweepers, asbestos was disturbed and the harmful particles released into the air.
This would be dangerous under any circumstance, but even more so in the confined spaces of a ship’s boiler room, for example.
Asbestos fibers were notorious for clinging to hair, shoes and clothing, meaning that they could be transported to other areas of the ship and contaminate workers who would not, ordinarily, ever come into contact with asbestos.
Did You Know?
Study Links Shipyard Asbestos Exposure to Mesothelioma
A 2007 study found that workers from a U.S. shipyard experienced an excess of mesothelioma of the pleura (lungs) and peritoneum (abdomen) from their exposure to asbestos.
The study also found that there were high rates of asbestos-related diseases not only in those who worked on the ships, but also office workers and guards in the area who had no direct contact with asbestos.