Firemen and Asbestos Exposure


Nearly 300 products needed in the shipbuilding process contained asbestos, a deadly mineral used as a fire retardant.

Even though it was discovered in 1920 that lengthy exposure to such a dangerous material is fatal, the decision to ban its use was taken long after.

The last vessel built with the asbestos-containing product was launched in 1985. However, the danger is not eliminated yet because the US Navy still uses old ships. Some of these are decommissioned nowadays and sold for scrapping, which is as risky as the shipbuilding process.

Another job posing a high risk of exposure to asbestos is the job of a fireman. A fireman is in charge of the ship's fire rooms, where the ship's boilers, engines, or other related components have to be well kept and operated. The fireman worked most of the time in rooms located below the deck, so the risk of being exposed to asbestos was high due to poor ventilation.

The fire control technicians worked on fire prevention with the firemen and were exposed to asbestos on ships, increasing their risk of developing a life-threatening disease. As their work took place in the control and navigation rooms, they were operating equipment that contained asbestos components, such as wire insulation and cable wrap.

US Navy firemen's protective gear also contained asbestos materials, so the exposure was even higher. Sometimes, even the families of firemen were exposed to asbestos, because of the toxic dust deposited on the working clothes the firemen brought home.

According to Peter G., a fireman on USS Oriskany CV-34, this was a noble job, but it wasn't among the safest in the world: "As far as I understood, not only the equipment around us was built with asbestos, but our protective gear as well." Unfortunately, the US Navy fireman was diagnosed in 2015 with mesothelioma.

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