Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Guest Post: Asbestos’ Role in American Industry, Warfare and Disease

A guest post:

Throughout World War I and II, as well as during other periods of significant growth in the United States, the mineral asbestos was widely used and regarded for its ability to withstand intolerable heat and flame. The U.S. military made great use of asbestos throughout the early and mid-20th Century, as it was a beneficial tool in building naval ships and creating supplies and additional products in American factories. As the years and decades passed, however, it was discovered through medical and scientific research that asbestos is incredibly dangerous.

Mesothelioma is a fatal form of cancer that exists most notably in three forms – pleural (lungs), pericardial (heart) and peritoneal (abdomen) – and the only known cause is asbestos. This disease has generally been a mystery, with reports as far back as Ancient Greece describing strange lung ailments and mesothelioma symptoms that were killing people. However, the past 30 years of medical science have given us a much better understanding of mesothelioma, but we still have progressed very little in early diagnosis and cessation.

More than 25 million living Americans have served in the United States Armed Forces at some point in their lifetimes, including the 2.6 million that are currently enlisted in active duty and the additional 1.6 million in reserves. It is believed that asbestos has been used in the construction and maintenance of approximately 1,046 naval ships, including aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers, submarines, destroyers, tenders, tugs, auxiliary ships, tankers and oilers, among others. Additionally, more than 300 products that have been used considerably by the U.S. Armed Forces have been identified as containing asbestos.

Asbestos was most commonly used in insulating and fireproofing the ships, with the material notably located in boilers and underwater hatches, as well as the insulation for doors on the ships’ decks. Asbestos was essentially found in nearly every area of a ship that required human presence, which means that men and women in service were consistently exposed to the material. Older ships that experienced standard wear provided an even more dangerous environment for humans, as the breakdown of materials allowed the asbestos to become airborne. As approximately 65% of diagnosed mesothelioma cases are pleural, this was seemingly a common way for a person to become afflicted.

Currently, at least 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are identified and reported each year, and that number is expected to keep rising well through the close of this decade. Mesothelioma carries a latency period of 20 to 50 years, which makes both diagnosis and prognosis difficult for physicians, as early symptoms like persistent coughing and chest pains can basically mirror those of a common cold. But this latency period also suggests that veterans of both World Wars, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars, who fell ill late in their lives may have been victims of mesothelioma, too.

The latency period also suggests that the number of new mesothelioma cases will peak around 2020, as asbestos use was rampant through the 1960s and 70s, and enlisted service men and women were consistently exposed to many of these commissioned naval vessels into the 1980s. More than 75% of diagnosed cases of mesothelioma occur in men over the age of 55. While Mesothelioma Life Expectancy varies based on a variety of mitigating general health factors, it is generally less than 5 years.

While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes mesothelioma as a service-related illness, veterans are not guaranteed benefits unless they can provide proof that the disease was contracted due to service-related exposure to asbestos or other harmful substances.


Anonymous 670cpo said...

I wonder if simply being a member of a crew attached to a unit being built or overhauled in a shipyard would be proof enough. Duty Chief making rounds throughout the boat, looking everywhere for the hidden hazards, walking into one he never saw. Sucks. Thanks for posting this Joel.

2/05/2011 9:06 AM

Anonymous YNC(SS), USN, Retired said...

Not sure how you prove that kinda stuff. I served on surface ships beginning with a Destroyer in December 1959. Took it through a shipyard overhaul at Mare Island. Was intimately involved as a SN during ripout and reinstallation of structures, including chipping, scraping, and metal preservation. Served on an aircraft carrier, and oiler as well, but not in the shipyard. Served on two attack boats during late 1970's and early to late 1980's. Went through shipyard on both.

At no time after I retired did I work in an industrial environment.

I guess I may be a candidate, although don't care to be, thank you.

2/05/2011 9:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The three boats I served on 348, 619, and 580 all had asbestos lagging. I'm on the asbestos register with the VA. Fortunatly no lung problems related to exposure. I sailed four years on USNS Kiska T-AE-35 as a Civilian Mariner with MSC. Kiska had a certificate from the Navy that she was asbestos free when transferred over to MSC. Twice during my time onboard asbestos was found. Crew members exposed went on MSC asbestos register. I know that 580 sold for scrapping in early 90's ended up going back to the Navy when company that bought her went bankrupt because they couldn't afford to rip out all the asbestos. 580 ended up as target and sunk off california.

Keep a zero bubble.....


2/05/2011 1:02 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

Crocidolite and amosite asbestos (all commercial forms were carcinogenic) were found predominantly in shipyards from the late 1800s until about 1975. Crocidolite is particularly hazardous.

2/05/2011 2:04 PM

Blogger Rudder Amidships said...

Thanks for posting this. It is an often forgotten topic.

One additional thing to remember, not just ships had asbestos in them. A lot of the buildings around many Naval Installations have asbestos throughout. For example, take a walk through any relatively old building on Ford Island in Pearl and it is like an asbestos manufacturing plant. The stuff is everywhere.


2/06/2011 2:59 AM

Anonymous Stsc said...

4500 psi air reducer in bow compartment blew on an evening import on the 638. We were picking up asbestos with our bare hands. Everyone later signed a paper acknowledging we has asbestos exposure. No problems yet - God willing I'll stay ok.

2/06/2011 8:32 AM

Anonymous NHSparky said...

Gets even better, kids. Today, anything over 1 percent is considered ACM. Back in the 80's and early 90's, the detection methods weren't as good, so even "asbestos free" materials could still be up to 10-15 percent asbestos.

If you've been on a boat in the last 3 decades, chances are at some point there's been some exposure, albeit minimal.

2/06/2011 8:18 PM

Blogger SJV said...

My first major task as a new SPU at prototype in West Milton was asbestos abatement in RCLL. Had a good bit of training and testing to qualify, including my first trip to Groton for lung xrays and spirometry. Part of the training was that smoking combined with asbestos exposure increased the risk of mesothelioma by a factor of 8.

2/06/2011 9:11 PM

Anonymous India Pictures said...

you’ve got great elements there and I do like how you encourage the readers to take the time to think.

2/07/2011 5:04 AM

Blogger Mike Mulligan said...

This is about a buddy who worked on shift with me for 10 years. Him and me got pretty close...we spent a lot of dead time just filling up time with our discussions. We liked to talk about car problems, about the mechanical bugs in our cars, GM was a big issue at the time...

He was a heavy smoker unfortunately. He had back pains for a long time. We blew a lot mid shifts talking about doctors and our pains. He come down with pneumonia...we talked about the going back and forth to his doctors, we came to the conclusion the doctors were blowing him off. He ended up in the hospital, I visited him there...he quickly recovered. We spent more time on back shifts, we talked about the troubles and worries of our kids, we could not figure out why they could not find a problem with the back pain and the pneumonia. A month later pneumonia hit him again, another visit to the hospital, then a quick recovery. From then on he wasn't the same person and he didn't have the energy on shift.

Out of nowhere I hear he is heading to the doctors in Boston...then I hear the dreaded news he has cancer in the lining of his lung. I hear that word mesthelioma for the first time. The doctors' yank the lung out and he tells me the prognosis is good. Nine months later he has got it in his other lung. In three months he is dead...what a horrible, horrible death.

He worked at a power plant many years back. They had condenser leaks. They solved it by injecting asbestos particles in the cooling water...where the vacuum would grab the asbestos and it would clog up the leak. His job was to dump bags of this asbestos into a mixing tank with water.

...Back when he was a young man, he worked the Dew Line as a contractor up in Alaska. That was our radar defenses against the Russians. He did maintenance and operated machinery that supplied them with electricity. He wintered over with them many times and he had some great stories about the freaking cold and snow. What stories he had about living in New Jersey too!

2/07/2011 10:39 AM

Blogger Rick said...

True Story:

During Enterprise's last refueling overhaul, I had to take a reactor compartment tour during asbestos ripout operations. This necessitated full anti-c clothing in addition to tyvek coveralls and a positive pressure respirator, so you should be able to understand the conditions at the time. While I was in the RC, I found a soda can taped to a piece of vital equipment coming out of the closure head. This can was filled with cigarette butts that the yard workers had been sneaking while doing the work. Radioactivity plus asbestor for the win!

I guess they slept through that portion of the asbestos work briefing.

2/07/2011 11:49 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am retired after over 30 years of working s/y sub overhauls dating back to the early 70's and have had chest x rays showing pleural thickening ( a minimal form of asbestos or malignant mesothelioma ) present in the lungs . If you ever have a chest x ray or ct scan showing any of the above contact a lawyer who is in this field as there is compensation available .

2/07/2011 8:51 PM

Blogger Below Decks Watch said...

Subase Groton. Come out the back entrance/exit of what is now Submarine Officers School building (BESS building back in day). Go up to street level. Big barracks building on the left. Small narrow building on the right. That small narrow building was used as an open bay barracks for 4 months in late 1992/ early 1993. We were told by the admin weenies not to use the buffer on the floor tiles. We, the subscol goobers, suspected asbestos. It was confirmed shortly thereafter when they moved us all out and started asbestos abatement.

2/09/2011 7:31 AM

Blogger SJV said...

Asbestos in floor tiles and roofing materials isn't a real issue unless they are disturbed. So removal is a concern, but just living and walking on them not so much. When the shipyards were in full swing with asbestos lagging, the air was so thick with dust that it obscured vision.

2/09/2011 6:39 PM

Anonymous Janel said...

I suppose every person must read it.

9/06/2012 10:33 AM

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6/08/2013 5:27 AM

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12/14/2013 4:51 AM

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1/24/2014 3:29 AM

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2/05/2014 1:34 AM

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2/05/2014 11:48 PM

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2/14/2014 6:05 AM

Blogger Mudassar Mughal said...

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4/14/2014 5:49 AM


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