When the Northwest began to outgrow its trapping and trading traditions, residents turned to the area’s most immediate resource – lumber – to build their growing cities. As lumber processing and paper milling evolved into gigantic industries, locals were looking to the ocean to get their finished products into new markets. As a result, shipbuilding experienced a boom corresponding to the lumber and paper explosion. It didn’t hurt that the nation had just entered World War II. The Kaiser Shipyard near Vancouver, Washington filled both commercial and military contracts. As the shipyards filled out the area’s manufacturing industry, willing citizens filled the rank and file of the industry. Many of them were never informed about the dangers their professions would pose.
Shipyards frequently use asbestos when constructing ships. Because of its excellent fire resistance, many thought it would be ideal for fire-proofing different sections of a vessel – particularly those near the engines and boiler rooms. Not only does it resist fire, but it also prevents the transfer of heat. Boiler rooms likely came equipped with asbestos bricks to insulate the rest of the vessel from the tremendous heat – even when there was no fire. Because ships involve close quarters, and employers rarely wanted to halt construction on all sections of a ship while asbestos elements were being installed, anyone working on a ship could have been exposed to the material. Artisans from all sections working near to one another may have come into contact. Further, fire-retardant spray was commonly employed, noticed by employees, but rarely explained.
Common respirators would have mitigated most of these risks. Asbestos is harmful if inhaled – by filtering the air or providing adequate ventilation, many of its most dire consequences could be avoided. When inhaled, the particles that make up asbestos are driven into the lung tissue. The lung tissue reacts to the irritant, working to envelope and remove it. As the damage continues, regenerative tissue can develop into malignant tissue. When that cancerous material penetrates the lining of the lungs and begins to grow on the outer walls, it is called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma can spread from there to the lining of other organs. Because the infection occurs within the chest and body cavity, it can be very difficult to treat. For the same reason, it’s very painful. Asbestos has been positively linked to mesothelioma. Exposure and the development of symptoms may be years, even decades, apart. The cumulative nature of exposure means that any exposure has the potential to be deadly, and continued exposure only increases the risk. For those working unprotected in close quarters filled with asbestos dust, there is a significant chance they will go on to develop an asbestos-related illness.
The travesty of asbestos is that essentially every illness related to it can be prevented. The fact that industries ignored the danger for so long is completely unacceptable. If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness, we can help you seek justice. We’re offering free consultations to those interested. If you’re suffering from an asbestos illness, you need to plan for the future of your family – we can help you do that.