Secondary Asbestos Exposure: Shipyard Workers' Family Members Affected


Asbestos was a vital component in Navy ships at the beginning of the 20th century. It was cheap to produce and purchase, making it worth adding to any material that would overheat or catch fire.

Every industry wanted to profit from its use, and the shipbuilding industry was no exception. The mineral was a critical material mandated in building the Navy fleet. Because asbestos was required in shipbuilding, shipyards hosted the potentiality of asbestos exposure for all the people working on the site daily.

Asbestos was present in virtually all components and materials utilized during the building process, and no one working there could avoid regular exposure to it. Many remember the white dust floating in the air and coating everything, including them. But it was a regular occurrence at work, and nobody paid attention, not knowing of the danger asbestos represented.

Unbeknownst to them, shipyard workers prolonged their exposure to their homes by returning to the family every day from work. The persons exposed through a spouse, husband, parent, or relative suffer secondary asbestos exposure, also known as:

  • domestic exposure
  • indirect exposure
  • secondhand exposure
  • household exposure

Everyday Family Life Was Shadowed by Asbestos

The routine of workdays hadn't changed since those times when shipyards were in full swing: after work, one returns home to rest and recharge, spending time with the family. Herein lay the potential danger of asbestos exposure when the family member who worked in the shipyard walked into the home covered in asbestos dust from head to toe. Unknowingly, they were a significant risk factor to their loved ones. Shipyard workers carried the invisible asbestos fibers home on:

  • hair
  • hands
  • clothing
  • shoes
  • work items - tools, lunch box

Asbestos contamination made all the interactions between family members unsafe, and hugs and other gestures of affection became a risk to all involved. But even without touching the exposed family member, those at home were in harm's way by simply being where the person changed clothes, put the work items away, or brushed their shoes or hair. Every movement could send the microscopic asbestos fibers into the air and pose the danger of inhaling or ingesting them for the family nearby. The tiny asbestos parts would settle on the furniture and other surfaces, only to be disturbed again and again by daily use. The entire cycle would repeat itself, perpetuating the risk of asbestos exposure.

Exposed to Asbestos by Washing the Clothes

The work in shipyards wasn't regulated to avoid asbestos exposure, as the mineral wasn't acknowledged to be dangerous. There was no protective clothing, and the workers took their contaminated clothes home. In most households, the wives took care of cleaning the clothes, never knowing that by washing these, they would be in danger from the asbestos fibers.

Secondary asbestos exposure is sometimes called 'shakedown' exposure, illustrating how the spouses of shipyard workers would inhale or ingest the mineral fibers. It is the case of Bethany, one of the many wives who suffered secondary asbestos exposure while washing her husband's clothes. She died from mesothelioma, and her daughter remembers: "My mom washed my dad's dusty overalls every night following his return from work. The dust was asbestos, and she was exposed to it by handling and washing the work clothes, although she never knew her danger."

Asbestos-Related Diseases Associated with Exposure

Asbestos exposure is the leading cause of many cancerous and non-cancerous asbestos-related diseases. Exposure to various amounts and types of asbestos further aggravates the chance of developing asbestos-related illnesses. Seeking immediate medical attention is advisable when experiencing the following symptoms:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain or tightness
  • loss of appetite
  • persistent dry cough
  • unintentional weight loss
  • general weakness
  • fatigue
  • night sweats
  • clubbing of the fingers
  • leg swelling
  • muscle aches
  • joint pain

All the symptoms could be signs of various types of cancers linked to the dangerous fibers:

Being diagnosed with one of these malignant conditions qualifies former shipyard workers to file claims. But the microscopic asbestos fibers are at the root of non-cancerous asbestos illnesses like:

Even though these diseases are incapacitating, they don't make those who worked in shipyards eligible for compensation. They tend, however, to develop into cancer over time, so keeping them under observation is advisable. Because of the decades-long latency period of asbestos-related diseases, getting a correct and early diagnosis is crucial. If an asbestos-related condition is diagnosed in its early stages, it improves the chances of getting the most effective treatment options and having the best outcomes. To avoid misdiagnosis is best to receive a second and even a third doctor's opinion before deciding on the treatment options.

What Can Shipyard Workers' Family Members Exposed to Asbestos Do?

Former shipyard workers' family members who suffer from cancerous asbestos-related diseases may qualify to file a personal injury lawsuit or asbestos trust fund claims. Countless spouses or children of shipyard workers have received compensation for their cancerous illnesses due to asbestos exposure. Those shipyard workers' families who lost one of the members to malignant asbestos-related diseases may meet the requirements to file a wrongful death claim.

It is essential to contact a legal practitioner who can inform you about your rights and options and secure the appropriate compensation. We can help by connecting you with experienced attorneys for detailed information on how to benefit from the settlement you're eligible for. On our website are enlisted the shipyards that posed a threat to everyone working on them, so the former shipyard workers and their families can consult them.

If you have a cancer diagnosis please contact us

Related News & Updates