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Shipyard Workers and Asbestos Exposure

Current and former shipyard workers can be exposed to asbestos materials used onboard ships. Asbestos exposure can cause illnesses like mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Sam Taylor (1)

Legally Reviewed By: Sam E. Taylor
Managing Attorney | Mesothelioma & Asbestos in Houston

Sam Taylor

Legally Reviewed By: Sam E. Taylor
Managing Attorney | Mesothelioma & Asbestos in Houston

Fire is one of the greatest risks onboard ships. Older navy vessels, cargo ships and passenger ships used asbestos throughout their structures to prevent fires from starting and spreading onboard.

Current and former shipyard workers have a high risk of occupational asbestos exposure. Asbestos was used in almost every compartment and system of ships built before the 1980s. The material was used so widely that the U.S. Navy decided it could only replace asbestos in ships as needed rather than undertaking ship-wide replacement projects.

It is important for shipyard workers to understand asbestos exposure risks and the process for claiming compensation for asbestos-related diseases.

Health Risks of Asbestos to Shipyard Workers

Shipyard workers who were exposed to asbestos are at risk of developing serious and deadly illnesses.


Asbestos causes a form of pulmonary fibrosis called asbestosis. When asbestos fibers are embedded in your lungs, scar tissue forms. This scar tissue hardens the lungs and causes them to lose elasticity. People with asbestosis struggle to breathe because their lungs cannot expand to fill with oxygen.


Cancer develops when cell mutations cause cells to grow and divide uncontrollably. When asbestos fibers become embedded in your body tissue, they can cause cell mutation.

When embedded in your lungs, asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer. Asbestos fibers embedded in the lining of your chest and abdomen can cause mesothelioma. Without early detection, these cancers will spread to other organs.

How soon after asbestos exposure in a shipyard can you get sick?

Asbestos-related illnesses take decades to develop. Some patients become ill 20 years after exposure, while others might not get sick for 50 or more years.

Doctors cannot remove asbestos from the body. Once you inhale the fibers, they stay with you for the rest of your life.

Asbestos-related illnesses can remain asymptomatic for a long time. Despite the fact that you are not exhibiting symptoms, disease can grow and spread. Cancer can reach stage III or IV by the time it’s been diagnosed.

Asbestos-related diseases are incurable, and patients often require costly medical care for the rest of their lives. Contact The Lanier Law Firm for a free consultation to discuss your case and the compensation you need for proper treatment.

Occupational Asbestos Exposure for Shipyard Workers

Asbestos was used in every U.S. Navy ship between 1941 and about 1980. Asbestos was also used on most civilian ships built during that time. Shipyard workers who built, repaired or salvaged ships during that time were likely exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos exposure can come from several sources on a shipyard, including:

Asbestos Shipbuilding Products

Asbestos was used everywhere onboard ships, including:

  • Fireproof paint
  • Mechanical parts such as gaskets, clutch facings and brakes
  • Hatch, wall, floor and ceiling insulation
  • Pipe wraps and pipe insulation
  • Electrical wire coating
  • Boilers and boiler insulation
  • Adhesives and sealants

The material was used in several forms. In some products, such as paint, it was pre-mixed into the material, while in other products, it was applied by shipyard workers. For example, asbestos was used in spray-on pipe insulation.
As these materials aged, they became brittle. They crumbled and released asbestos dust onto surfaces and into the air.

Since asbestos is no longer used in U.S. shipyards, asbestos exposure usually happens when a shipyard renovates or refits an older ship. Ships built before 1990 usually contain asbestos.

If you work on older ships, you likely inhale asbestos dust. Most ships have poor ventilation that traps asbestos dust inside. The dust gets blown throughout the ship or carried on the clothing and bodies of shipyard workers.

As a result, even shipyard workers who do not come into direct contact with asbestos materials can inhale asbestos dust.

Demolition Projects

Salvage work can also expose you to asbestos. Dismantling and cutting up older ships for parts can release asbestos dust. Shipyard workers without protective equipment can inhale asbestos dust, and dust can get carried everywhere in a shipyard, including the administrative offices.

Direct Exposure

Is asbestos still used in shipbuilding? Yes, but not in the United States, which has banned asbestos shipbuilding products.

However, asbestos was not banned in shipbuilding in the United States until 2002. If you worked in shipbuilding more than 20 years ago, you probably handled asbestos-containing shipbuilding materials.

You could also come into contact with asbestos materials on vessels built in other countries. Shipbuilders still use asbestos in India, China, Brazil and many other countries. Shipyard workers who have worked outside the United States or on non-U.S. vessels might have been exposed.

Modern shipyard workers can also encounter asbestos in other products. Old welding gloves and fireproof clothing might contain asbestos.

Manufacturers of Asbestos Products

Almost every product used to build ships contained asbestos. Some manufacturers that made asbestos products used onboard ships include:

  • American Standard, Inc.
  • Aqua-Chem, Inc.
  • Armstrong World Industries, Inc.
  • Bondex International, Inc.
  • Crane Co.
  • Fibreboard Corp.
  • Forty-Eight Insulations
  • General Electric Company
  • Ingersoll-Rand
  • Keene Corporation
  • Kelly-Moore Paint Company
  • Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company (better known as 3M)
  • Monsanto Chemical Corp.
  • Murco Wall Products
  • National Gypsum Company
  • Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corporation
  • Sherwin-Williams Paint Company
  • U.S. Gypsum Company
  • U.S. Mineral
  • W.R. Grace & Co.

Asbestos claims drove several of these companies into bankruptcy.

Why Should You Trust The Lanier Law Firm To
Handle Your Mesothelioma Case?

Asbestos Safety

Shipyards have taken steps to reduce their workers’ exposure to asbestos, including:

  • Warnings about known asbestos risks
  • Protective gear requirements
  • Dust containment and collection
  • Environmental asbestos testing and monitoring

If your shipyard lacked these safety measures, you might have a negligence claim.

Asbestos workers

Mesothelioma Risk for Shipyard Workers

Only a small percentage of shipyard workers exposed to asbestos will develop mesothelioma. Some 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States every year, making mesothelioma one of the rarest forms of cancer.

But your exact mesothelioma risk depends on your level of exposure. Long-term exposure to low levels of asbestos might do just as much damage as short-term exposure to high levels of asbestos.

Compensation Available for Shipyard Workers Exposed to Asbestos

Product liability law allows you to pursue a legal claim against asbestos manufacturers and shipbuilders. But the U.S. Navy — the biggest shipbuilder and arguably the biggest user of asbestos — is immune to asbestos-related claims.

You have two options for pursuing compensation for asbestos-related illnesses. First, you can file a lawsuit against the product manufacturer. But since many manufacturers went bankrupt fighting asbestos claims, you can also seek compensation from the trust funds they established.

To claim compensation from an asbestos trust fund, you and your asbestos attorney must file your claim before your state’s statute of limitations expires. The claim must prove that the company’s asbestos products caused your disease.

The Lanier Law Firm was founded in 1990 and has handled many shipyard worker asbestos exposure cases. To discuss your injuries and the compensation you can seek in your asbestos claim, contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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