Cooks and Asbestos Exposure


Asbestos use increased during World War II. Before the health profession recognized asbestos's dangers, the mineral was largely used in building ships.

Commissarymen or stewards were the cooks and bakers on the ships. Preparing meals for enlisted sailors in the galleys meant long work hours in enclosed spaces under the deck, putting everyone responsible for making food at risk of inhaling asbestos fibers. In addition, cooks maintained food service spaces and associated equipment in a clean, safe, and sanitary condition - a duty that increased the danger of inhaling the toxic fibers. Maintenance attributions included the storerooms and refrigerated spaces, often cramped and with heavy air, another risky environment for asbestos inhalation.

Asbestos Endangered the Health of Everyone Onboard

Besides the insulation on every pipe running through every quarter of the ship, asbestos-containing paint was another source of exposure. It was used on vessels because it was fireproof, non-corrosive, and stable, and it increased the tensile strength of products and improved their holding power. Regular ship maintenance often disturbed both items, sending airborne microscopic asbestos fibers throughout the ship. Due to poor ventilation, bellow-deck spaces, including galleys and mess halls, were hazardous when the tiny fibers floated around.

Sailors working in the kitchens of Navy ships were also known as "galley sailors. " Kitchen personnel is part of a team whose job is to feed the crew members at all times and works a rotating shift to ensure that there are almost always cooks in the mess hall. The midnight shift did the preparing work for the day shift to keep the ship's crew fed. During patrols, exercises, or combat situations, cooks were on duty in the galley cooking because the crew needed to be able to eat no matter what the case was. Some of the galley personnel even had basic medical care training in case of injury in combat. Besides meal preparation, their responsibilities also included:

  • menu management
  • food preparation
  • mess, kitchen, and dining facilities operations
  • operation and management of shipboard living quarters
  • maintain subsistence inventories using storeroom management procedures
  • keeping accountability records

What Can Kitchen Personnel Affected by Asbestos Exposure Do?

Before 1980, the ship's kitchen personnel was at risk of inhaling asbestos particles while working in galleys. Due to the long latency period of asbestos-related illnesses, the best is to call the doctor and schedule a screening. Health conditions stemming from asbestos exposure often go undetected until they develop advanced stages, so early detection and intervention are the keys to survival. To avoid being misdiagnosed, asking for a second or even a third doctor's opinion outside the VA is advisable. Your doctor will be able to diagnose you more accurately with information about your employment history.

If you or a family member has developed asbestos-related cancer due to exposure while working in the galley, you may want to consult with an experienced attorney. We can connect you with the right attorneys to be advised of your rights and options, given your specific circumstances.

If you have a cancer diagnosis please contact us

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