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Merchant Marine Seamen and Asbestos

seaman working

Merchant marine seamen are at risk of developing mesothelioma, a cancer related to inhaling asbestos particles, because asbestos was widely used in the construction of ships until the late 1970s. The longer a merchant marine seaman, mariner or sailor served aboard ship, the greater the seaman’s chances of exposure to asbestos and development of asbestos-related disease. With the slow onset of mesothelioma, a seaman may not notice symptoms of asbestos-related disease until decades after exposure and duty on a ship.

If you served as a merchant marine seaman and have recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may have a legal right to seek compensation from the asbestos manufacturers that caused your disease.

Asbestos exposure is an occupational hazard for a merchant marine seaman. Asbestos was widely used in maritime and naval ships, including cargo ships, tankers and freighters, until the late 1970s. Asbestos was used in insulation on boilers, as insulation wrap for steam pipes and in gaskets and packings used in pipes, valves and machinery. As asbestos wrap ages, it can become brittle and release asbestos fibers into the air. Microscopic asbestos fibers can float in the air for days, allowing them to be unknowingly inhaled by a merchant marine seaman.

A study published in the Journal of Industrial Medicine by researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York analyzed the chest x-rays of more than 3,300 long-term U.S. merchant marine seamen and found that a third of the seamen showed abnormalities in the lining of the lung—the location where mesothelioma typically develops. There was a correlation between the likelihood of abnormalities and the length of duty on a ship, as well as the job aboard ship. The prevalence of changes caused by asbestos was greater among merchant marine seamen who worked in the engine room of ships compared to other duties.

Breathing asbestos may cause asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs that causes breathing problems. Inhaling asbestos fibers also may cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the pleural membrane or thin lining surrounding the lung or the abdominal cavity if asbestos is swallowed. If you are a long-time mariner or seafarer, it is likely that you served at some point on a ship or ships containing chrysotile asbestos products, amosite asbestos or crocidolite asbestos. The symptoms of mesothelioma may take 20 to 40 years to develop, so sometimes mariners don’t immediately connect their health problems with exposure to asbestos decades ago in the 1960s or 1970s.