Medical and dental technicians and stewards were exposed to asbestos as they carried out their shipboard duties living in the confined and closed shipboard environment. All of the ship’s crew spent time together in common spaces for recreation. They also ate together, slept in the same berthing spaces, and were served by a common laundry facility. As a result, they all were exposed to the industrial activities going on throughout the ship, including in spaces of which they had little knowledge or concern, where asbestos dust was generated and carried into common spaces. Medical and dental technicians and stewards remain at risk of contracting an asbestos related cancer, including mesothelioma, as a result of their exposure to asbestos.
Principal Locations of Shipboard Service
Individuals within these ratings were typically assigned to the sickbay and “officers’ country” for training, watch-standing, and maintenance duties. Medical and dental technicians spent time every day in the ship’s public spaces, such as the galley, berthing areas, lounges and recreational areas where all of those who served on board ship congregated.
Typically reporting aboard his first ship as an Apprentice, either directly from recruit training or via one of the Navy’s rate-specific training facilities, the new recruit was assigned to the medical, dental or stewards’ departments. Most new arrivals spent a tour temporarily assigned to the galley spaces for mess cooking duties for approximately 90 days.
Shipboard Exposure to Asbestos
Direct exposure to asbestos dust principally occurred while these men were involved in the routine housekeeping activities of their assigned organization. Hot water and steam-heating piping extended throughout the ship and traversed the operational and berthing spaces for which they were assigned cleanliness responsibilities. Shipboard piping systems typically utilized portable removable asbestos pads as insulation over valves and other components subject to periodic maintenance and repair access. Medical and dental technicians and stewards came into contact with the asbestos debris where insulation had been disturbed, either through the normal conduct of personnel traffic and activity, being bumped or damaged during some incident or proximate repair work, or the physical shock from ship’s motion while in heavy seas or during gunfire actions.
In addition, even if not directly involved with the asbestos-dust-generating event, the fact that the ship was a closed environment with the presence of a large number of people performing many tasks in a confined space meant that medical and dental technicians and stewards were exposed by the asbestos-dust-generating activities of others.