Boilermen and Asbestos Exposure

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The fact that today many veterans suffer from serious diseases like asbestosis, mesothelioma, or lung cancer is unfortunate, but the US Navy is not to blame.

Companies that provided asbestos-containing products for the shipbuilding process are liable.

However, asbestos was a cheap material with great insulation properties which brought a lot of profit, despite sickening many veterans.

Boilermen were at the highest risk of getting ill because they worked in poorly ventilated rooms and had no protective equipment. A boilerman has the role of operating, maintaining, cleaning and repairing the hot water systems on a steamship.

A boilerman was also called a fireman since they dealt with a system that relied on burning coal to keep the ship going. This job practically involved a lot of physical work, implying tasks such as using the shovel to insert coal in the engine's firebox.

Boilermen were also in charge of the large boilers that were situated in the fire rooms, so they spent most of their time in these rooms and around these boilers, both of which were coated with asbestos. This mineral was so abundant in this part of the ship that you could see its white fibers. Therefore, the air these crewmen breathed was contaminated by asbestos and it was visibly dusty.

The asbestos exposure area is quite restrained in the case of a boilerman, because his responsibilities were focused only to a restricted area where the boilers were located. So, a boilerman was exposed to this dangerous mineral whenever he worked with components like pumps, valves, insulation, coatings or even seals.

According to William R., boilerman on USS Compton DD-705, this occupation involved a lot of dangers: "There were a lot of asbestos-contaminated components around us. And what made it even more dangerous was the fact that the rooms were not ventilated enough so that we can breathe fresh air". He is now suffering from an asbestos-related illness.

Daryl B., boilerman who worked aboard the USS Sierra (AD-18) says: ''Anyone working in the boiler room was exposed to the fibers; they were present everywhere and in large quantities because asbestos did a great job at insulating the boiler room. There was no protective equipment back then as there is now. You didn't get any mask or face cover, you couldn't avoid inhaling asbestos and you were working with your bare hands.''. He is now struggling with persistent cough due to his years of exposure.

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