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Recent Study Confirms the Health Risks of Asbestos Exposure for Commercial Ships Seaman

By Treven Pyles

Posted on December 21st, 2016 in

A study regarding the health risks posed by asbestos exposure among seaman working on commercial ships was published online in the medical journal, Inhalation Toxicology on the 10th November 2016.

- By Treven Pyles

The most significant source of asbestos exposure in commercial merchant ships seems to be the ship maintenance and repair task that is undertaken regularly.

What Does this Study Show?

The study was submitted in May 2016 and published online in November 2016. Its results were drawn from measuring airborne asbestos on merchant ships and from studying the resulting health of its merchants over time. Previous studies were also taken into consideration, especially those regarding maritime health and safety, based on the communications and actions of U.S. organizations.

Asbestos was often used for sea vessels because it acted as an effective insulator, reduced the ventilation needed to cool spaces, prevented condensation, allowed machinery to operate with decreased heat loss, and prevented workers from coming into contact with hot components.

According to the results of the new study, asbestos exposure is most probably to have happened during repairs to the ships and maintenance tasks throughout the time that seaman worked aboard merchant ships at sea (i.e. commercial, rather than naval vessels). While performing repair and maintenance tasks on merchant ships, seaman were potentially exposed to "in-place" asbestos.

What attracted the attention of the U.S. government and several industries and labor organizations was the fact that some U.S. seaman reported pleural abnormalities, even if asbestos air levels were found to be below 1 f/cc for most repair and maintenance work.

What Older Studies Have Showed

Up to the 1970's, scientific endeavors and statistics about the potential health risks of asbestos were mostly concentrated on workers in asbestos mining and milling industries, in asbestos product manufacturing and some end-user of asbestos products (mostly insulators). From the late 1970s and early 1980s, studies began to include the health risks for merchant seaman, as more and more cases were reported.

In the 1990s, there were increases in lung cancer and mesothelioma showing in studies of seaman which led researchers to believe there was a significant connection between the seaman lung diseases and the asbestos exposure on ships.

A similar study from 2008 uses historical industrial hygiene data from maritime shipping vessels between 1978 and 1992, including oil tankers and cargo vessels that were docked and/or at sea. Unfortunately, numerous samples that were collected from suspected asbestos-containing materials were taken when there was no interaction with the studied materials.

The study resulted that the minimal presence of undisturbed asbestos did not increase exposure significantly. Asbestos levels were below the occupational standards and steadily below the current expectations of 0.1 f/cc.


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