Pipefitters and Asbestos Exposure

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Asbestos is a mineral that was used worldwide for its great insulation properties, but it is hazardous due to its airborne fibers that can easily get into the lungs. Many naval workers were daily exposed to it through several asbestos-containing products and materials like gaskets, pipes, valves, turbines, brakes, boilers, cement or cloth. Basically, any damaged product previously mentioned would release dust into thin air, causing the workers to inhale it. After a latency period of 20-50 years, thousands of workers discovered that they suffer from various types of asbestos related diseases.

Pipefitters are naval workers in charge of installing, assembling, fabricating, maintaining and repairing the piping systems. They work with marine piping, heating and cooling systems and are also in charge of insulating pipes with asbestos. The exposure took place most likely while removing the contaminated lagging, which was necessary during repairs. Another cause is that they were assigned to work in rooms located below the deck where there was a lot of equipment built with asbestos. The air in these rooms was not at all ventilated, so the inhalation of asbestos dust was extremely facile.

A pipefitter is not assigned to work only on a ship. Other responsibilities include working in shipyards, where the duties are almost the same and the risk of exposure is even more present. Quoting Ulysses C., pipefitter on several shipyards including the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard: "I remember that I had to mix loose asbestos with water to cover the pipes with the asbestos paste in order to make the insulation." He was diagnosed in 1999 with lung cancer stage 3 caused by asbestos exposure.

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