Welders and Asbestos Exposure

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The veterans who served the country during the 20th century faced a major problem regarding the use of asbestos in the shipbuilding process which led to thousands of naval workers getting sick. Having excellent insulation properties, asbestos was a good choice for coating elements on a ship that tend to overheat. The mineral is composed of microscopic fibers that, once released into thin air, can easily get inhaled into the lungs.

People who worked in shipyards and on ships were exposed to asbestos during the shipbuilding process, during repairs to ships or during their conversion. At risk of exposure were boilermakers, enginemen, insulators, machinist's mates, electrician's mates or welders.

Welders were initially called blacksmiths and their job was to melt pieces of metal and then to pound them together. Starting with 1900, the job began to develop and changed into welding. Welders had to wear protection equipment in order to be safe from flashes or fire and due to its properties these gears were made with asbestos. However, this protection came with a price and many of them developed serious and aggressive forms of cancer years after the exposure.

During the welding process, pipes, turbines, boilers or any other products that contained asbestos were more likely to be shocked, which caused the fibers to be released and the employees to inhale them immediately. The exposure to asbestos in case of welders was as dangerous as it was in the case of boilermen or insulators. Family members could have been affected, too, because the dust emanated was easily set on the clothes that they later brought home.

Quoting Bruce H., welder on USS Independence CL-22: "Even though I've came to terms with my disease, I still find it hard to understand why did my family have to be involved in this. I don't blame the US Navy for this, nor the government, but the companies that provided the products contaminated with asbestos." He died in 2012 from lung cancer.

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