Asbestos on Ships Still Poses a Mesothelioma Risk to Sailors

asbestos on shipsA new report warns that sailors are still at risk for malignant mesothelioma because of asbestos on ships – in spite of OSHA regulations.

A pair of public health researchers authored the report which appears in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Sailors face a number of health risks, including malignant mesothelioma. But the authors of the new report say more studies focus on people who work in shipyards. 

They say there is not enough attention on the mesothelioma risk among people who not only work but also live with asbestos on ships. 

The Use of Asbestos on Ships

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral. It must be mined from the ground and then processed into various products. In the past, nearly all large Naval vessels contained asbestos from stem to stern. 

“Chrysotile and amphibole asbestos were used extensively in ship construction for insulation, joiner bulkhead systems, pipe coverings, boilers, machinery parts, bulkhead panels, and many other uses, and asbestos-containing ships are still in service,” write report authors Richard Lemen and Philip Landrigan. 

Asbestos on ships helps prevent fires, keep hot things hot, and protect sailors from heat and burns. Unfortunately, the same asbestos that was supposed to protect sailors also harmed many of them.

Asbestos is the main cause of mesothelioma. Not surprisingly, Naval veterans have higher rates of mesothelioma than the general public. 

OSHA Rules Not Enough to Protect Sailors from Mesothelioma

After scientists made the connection between asbestos and mesothelioma, the US government put some protections in place. 

OSHA guidelines are designed to protect workers from asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. Among other things, they set “permissible exposure limits” (PELs) for workers.

But Lemen and Landrigan say these limits do not offer enough protection for sailors against asbestos on ships. 

“Sailors are at high risk of exposure to shipboard asbestos, because unlike shipyard workers and other occupationally exposed groups, sailors both work and live at their worksite, making asbestos standards and permissible exposure limits (PELs) based on an 8-hour workday inadequate,” they write. 

They based their findings on a review of epidemiological studies of sailors

There is no way to prevent mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos on ships. The best way for sailors to protect their health is to know the signs of mesothelioma and have regular checkups. Early treatment can improve the odds of longer-term mesothelioma survival.

Signs of pleural mesothelioma include cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, weight loss, and fatigue. CLICK HERE if you need help finding a mesothelioma expert in your area. 


Lemen, R and Landrigan, P, “Sailors and the Risk of Asbestos-Related Cancer”, August 9, 2021, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/16/8417

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