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The United States Merchant Marines face a high risk of occupational asbestos exposure. Asbestos materials were widely used on ships constructed before 1980. Years of asbestos exposure put Merchant Marines at risk of developing mesothelioma. Some Merchant Mariners may also still risk exposure today.


01. Asbestos Risk for Merchant Marines

How Are Merchant Marines Exposed to Asbestos?

Throughout the 20th century, the Merchant Marines transported goods and cargo. Asbestos use on ships put Merchant Mariners at risk of asbestos exposure for decades.

Before the 1980s, asbestos was frequently used in ship construction. The mineral was used to prevent fire and chemical hazards at sea. Asbestos-containing materials were commonly added to high heat and high-pressure equipment.

Facts About Merchant Mariners
  • 81,900 Merchant Mariners in the United States (2019)
  • Asbestos Exposure: Previous and ongoing exposure risk
  • Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Moderate
  • Similar Occupations: Shipyard workers, sailors, Navy service members

Merchant Marines were responsible for maintaining and repairing asbestos materials while at sea. Asbestos fibers may become disturbed when asbestos materials are installed, repaired or removed. Aboard ships, poor ventilation and constant movement increased exposure risk.

Asbestos in the air put Merchant Marines at high risk of asbestos exposure. Inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers may lead to an asbestos-related disease.

What Asbestos Products Put Merchant Marines at Risk?

In U.S. merchant ships, asbestos products could be found in living spaces and around machinery.

Merchant Marines may have come in contact with a variety of these products. During maintenance, asbestos surrounding these products was commonly disturbed.

As a result, Merchant Marines may have been exposed to asbestos from:

  • Air compressors
  • Brake linings
  • Fuel oil burners
  • Gaskets
  • Insulation
  • Joint compound
  • Lagging
  • Steam pipes
  • Turbines
  • Valves

These products were manufactured and sold by asbestos companies. Several companies supplied asbestos shipbuilding materials to the military.

Manufacturers of Asbestos Products Used by Merchant Marines

The use of asbestos is now restricted on merchant marine ships. However, the mineral may still be found in some equipment. Some Merchant Mariners still risk asbestos exposure from these materials.

Common Places Asbestos Is Found on Merchant Marine Ships

Merchant Marines may have experienced asbestos exposure in several places aboard ships. Locations on ships that often exposed Merchant Mariners include:

  • Boiler rooms
  • Engine rooms
  • Mess halls
  • Sleeping quarters

Many repairs of asbestos-containing products took place in the engine and boiler rooms. Poor ventilation in these rooms led to higher concentration exposures and an increased risk of workers developing asbestos diseases, such as mesothelioma.

World War II Asbestos Exposure Risk

The height of Merchant Mariners’ exposure to asbestos occurred during World War II (WWII). Veterans who served during this war are among the most at risk of developing mesothelioma.

Merchant marine ships in the fleet during WWII include*:

  • S.S. Alcoa Cavalier
  • S.S. Bay State
  • S.S. Berkeley Victory
  • S.S. Blue Grass State
  • S.S. Borinquen
  • S.S. Buckeye State
  • S.S. Burco Trader
  • S.S. C.H.M. Jones
  • S.S. Cilco Logger
  • S.S. Del Mar
  • S.S. Empire
  • S.S. Mormacsea
  • S.S. Socony 10
  • S.S. Spencer Kellogg
  • S.S. Stonewall Jackson

*This is not an exhaustive list. Merchant Mariners should speak with an asbestos attorney to discern if their ship(s) contained asbestos materials.

Aboard these ships, a variety of crew members may have experienced exposure. Merchant Mariners working above and below deck were at risk.

02. Mesothelioma Risk for Merchant Marines

Mesothelioma Risk for Merchant Marines

Merchant Marines who worked on asbestos-ridden ships are at high risk of developing mesothelioma. A British study found Merchant Mariners working in the engine room were among the most affected by asbestos-related illness.

In the 1990 study, researchers inspected chest X-rays of more than 3,324 Merchant Mariners. Researchers found:

  • More than 40% of those working in the engine room had lung abnormalities.
  • 34% of all Merchant Mariners in the study had lung abnormalities.

These abnormalities may be indicative of pleural mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs and is the most common form of the cancer.

Often, mesothelioma takes years to develop. Individuals who experienced exposure decades ago can still be diagnosed with mesothelioma today.

Merchant Mariners and U.S. Navy veterans with a known history of occupational asbestos exposure should seek medical attention. An early mesothelioma diagnosis typically allows for more treatment options. Early and aggressive treatment may improve life expectancy.

03. Compensation for Merchant Marines

Compensation for Victims of Occupational Asbestos Exposure

If occupational asbestos exposure led to an asbestos illness, Merchant Mariners may receive compensation. Merchant Mariners can pursue financial compensation by filing an asbestos lawsuit or claim.

After facing many lawsuits, some companies established asbestos trust funds. Individuals who successfully file an asbestos trust fund claim can receive a payout.

Wife of Former Merchant Mariner Awarded $1.8 Million

In 1994, Joseph Torrejon was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Torrejon believed his mesothelioma was a result of occupational asbestos exposure.

Beginning in 1938, Torrejon worked as a Merchant Marine. He worked as an oiler and frequently maintained asbestos materials, such as insulation.

Torrejon passed away shortly after his diagnosis. His wife, Christina, filed a wrongful death lawsuit and was awarded:

  • $1.8 million in general damages
  • $35,917 in special damages

Merchant Mariners diagnosed with asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma should contact an asbestos law firm. These law firms specialize in mesothelioma and asbestos cases.

VA Benefits for World War II-Era Merchant Marines

Merchant Marines who served during World War II are eligible for United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) compensation and benefits.

Merchant Marines who experienced exposure and later developed mesothelioma may file a VA claim. A mesothelioma lawyer may provide a free consultation to discuss the most beneficial legal options.

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