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Asbestos Remains in Shipbuilders' Lungs

Friday, August 5, 2016

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A new study of shipyard workers in Italy indicates that years and even decades later, those who have worked around asbestos can suffer health consequences, including mesothelioma and lung cancer.

The study, published last month in La Medicina Del Lavoro, an Italian medical journal, looked at former workers from one specific shipyard who were diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses, and analyzed postmortem lung samples to determine at what level asbestos remained in the worker’s bodies.

High Exposure Rates

Asbestos exposure in shipyard workers is well documented. The website Surviving Mesothelioma notes in an article about the new study that in Hampton Roads, VA, which is heavily involved in the shipbuilding industry, past analyses have found a mesothelioma rate seven times the national average. Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer most often caused by asbestos.

Abestos exposure effects
By National Heart Lung and Blood Institute - Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer most often caused by asbestos; asbestosis is a chronic lung condition also caused by exposure.

The new study is the largest lung burden analysis of asbestos bodies and asbestos fibers ever done on shipbuilders, according to the authors, Pietro Gino Barbieri and Anna Somigliana.

A notable detail from the analysis is that asbestos remained in the shipbuilders’ bodies for decades after they stopped working in exposed environments. Of the 114 lung analyses performed, 33 percent were found to have asbestos fiber burdens of greater than 10 million. The average time since last exposure for the workers analyzed was 31 years.

The study also points out the prevalence of asbestosis, a chronic lung condition caused by asbestos, which is separate from cancer. Of those with lung cancer, the study found 48 percent also had mild asbestosis; 28 percent of those with mesothelioma did.

Exposure Still an Issue

Asbestos was widely used in insulation and other applications for decades, until the 1970s, when its adverse health effects began to be fully recognized. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned all new uses of asbestos in 1989.

Herbert C. Jackson
By U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District - CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

According to OSHA, workers on the Herbert C. Jackson were allegedly exposed to asbestos, as well as lead and other heavy metals, earlier this year.

While much of the asbestos exposure to shipyard workers occurred decades ago, when the material was still in active use, even today, workers are faced with exposure during demolition projects on ships built years ago.

Asbestos exposure played into the $1.4 million in fines proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration earlier this week against Fraser Shipyard in Wisconsin. Workers on the Herbert C. Jackson were allegedly exposed to asbestos, as well as lead and other heavy metals, earlier this year.


Tagged categories: Asbestos; Asia Pacific; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Hazards; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Latin America; North America; Safety; Ships and vessels; Shipyards

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