Draftsmen and Asbestos Exposure


Asbestos was widely used in the US Navy shipbuilding because of its affordability and properties that fit the industry's needs in building the increasing number of naval vessels that WW2 demanded.

The mineral's resistance to corrosion, chemical damage, and high temperatures made it indispensable for insulating and fireproofing the ships. Furthermore, asbestos was a strengthening component in more than 300 products applied in building vessels for the Navy Fleet.

Asbestos becomes a health risk when its microscopic fibers become airborne due to wear and tear. In contrast to other particulate matter, asbestos dust can linger in the air for hours, increasing the chances of inhaling or ingesting the toxic fibers for everyone onboard. With most naval vessels known for having poor ventilation, Navy personnel fulfilling duty on ships built before the 1980s, including draftsmen, were at a high risk of asbestos exposure.

When inhaled or ingested, the toxic asbestos fibers get caught and then lodge in the lining of the lungs, tearing it as the lungs try to eliminate them. The process results in permanent and irreversible scarring that often progresses into cell modifications over time and, in most cases, leads to the development of asbestos-related cancers such as:

Former service members diagnosed with the cancers mentioned above are eligible for expedited claims and immediately qualify for compensation if they have proof of asbestos exposure and their medical documentation states one of these malignant diseases.

Risking Asbestos Exposure While Working Below Deck

Because many companies used asbestos in manufacturing products for the US Navy's shipbuilding process, the toxic material was present in most parts of a ship, from the engine and boiler rooms to navigation rooms, mess halls, and sleeping quarters. It made avoiding exposure to its microscopic fibers impossible for everyone on the vessels.

The Illustrator Draftsman (DM) was a graphic designer in the Navy and risked exposure to asbestos while working most of the time in the below-deck compartments. The rating was established initially as simply draftsman in 1948 and changed to DM in 1959. At that time, a large group of ratings were merged to create the new rating:

  • Carpenter's Mate Draftsman
  • Electrician's Mate Draftsman
  • Shipfitter Mechanical Draftsman
  • Engineering Draftsman
  • Topographic Draftsman
  • Cartographer
  • Photogrammetrist

DM's responsibility was to make maps, blueprints, and various technical drawings, including those of ships and other vessels. Among their daily tasks was creating illustrations with:

  • pencil, pen, and ink
  • paints and watercolor

DMs operated and maintained graphic arts reproduction, audiovisual presentation equipment, and graphics workstations. They could have been employed by a shipbuilding company or by the War Department for:

  • technical illustrations
  • graphics for briefings
  • visual aids and publications
  • charts
  • slides
  • maps
  • plans

Sailors in this rating also fulfilled onboard duties like standing watches in different parts of the ship, further increasing their risks of being exposed to asbestos. As Carl C., a draftsman on USS Southampton, remembers: "I often stood watches in the engine room whenever the ship was docked and on the bridge when sailing."

Veterans Should Be Vocal About Asbestos Exposure

Although asbestos was abundant on the ships, Navy personnel usually weren't equipped with protective gear during maintenance, repair, or renovation. Additionally, they were often tasked with asbestos replacement or removal, making them highly susceptible to inhaling or ingesting the tiny fibers.

Asbestos dust wasn't considered dangerous back then, and today, many veterans are unaware of how airborne asbestos fibers could cause diseases linked to their past service. That is why it's essential to seek professional help and speak to the doctor about your military service when experiencing symptoms like:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • chest tightness
  • wheezing
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • unintentional weight loss
  • persistent dry cough
  • pain with inspiration

Being open about possible asbestos exposure onboard the ship is very important, as asbestos-related illnesses are often misdiagnosed for other respiratory conditions like asthma or COPD. Undergoing periodic chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests help check lung health and reveal the presence of asbestos fibers.

Diseases stemming from asbestos exposure are complex; therefore, doctors can easily misread the symptoms. To receive an exact diagnosis and a personalized treatment, veterans should ask for a second or even a third doctor's opinion outside the VA. A specialty consult like a pulmonologist's examination can accurately confirm any changes caused by the embedded asbestos particles and provide you with the paperwork needed to file claims.

Offering Assistance to Veterans Harmed by Asbestos Exposure on US Navy Ships

The VA provides health monitoring and treatment options for veterans exposed to asbestos during their service. To become eligible for the benefits administered by the VA, veterans must first prove that asbestos exposure occurred while under active duty and have a record of any medical treatments received for a subsequent asbestos-related cancer.

If you or somebody you know was exposed to asbestos during active duty and was diagnosed with cancer, we can put you in touch with experienced toxic exposure attorneys should you decide to make legal steps and receive compensation for your suffering.

If you have a cancer diagnosis please contact us

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