For centuries, dockworkers around the world have performed roles crucial to industry. In the United States these workers, sometimes called stevedores or longshoremen, share a long and proud history. They are responsible for performing tasks on port docks and for loading and unloading ships. When you consider that approximately 90% of today’s goods are transported at least partially by ship, it is apparent that dockworkers have an incredible impact on commerce.
While the job has certainly changed in some respects over time, one thing has not – these employees work hard for their families every day. Unfortunately for some dockworkers, this work included dangerous exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos and Mesothelioma
Asbestos refers to six naturally occurring minerals. In its natural state, it is not dangerous. However, it becomes dangerous once it is disturbed and tiny asbestos fibers become airborne. If inhaled over long periods of time, the exposure can lead to serious health problems, including mesothelioma.
How Were Dock Workers Exposed to Asbestos?
For many years there were no limitations on the usage of asbestos in American industry. Asbestos, a naturally occurring and inexpensive mineral, was highly valued for its effectiveness at insulating and withstanding extreme heat. Here are a few ways in which dock workers could have been exposed to asbestos:
- Pipe insulation – Steam pipes on ships were often insulated with products containing asbestos.
- Ship Doors – Doors and other parts of ships were often insulated with materials containing asbestos.
- Cargo – Ships often transported products, such as construction and building materials, which themselves contained asbestos.
- Construction and maintenance activities – Sometimes dockworkers took part in or were around installation and construction activities with equipment that contained asbestos. Drilling and cutting such products allows asbestos fibers to become airborne.
- Transportation of asbestos – Some ships actually carried large quantities of asbestos itself. An example of an interesting case, which shows the horrific level to which some people were exposed, is discussed below.
One interesting example of the level of exposure to asbestos once faced by unknowing dock workers and stevedores can be seen in the facts presented in the case of Castorina v. Lykes Bros. Steamship Co., Inc., 578 F. Supp. 1153 (S.D. Texas 1984).
The plaintiff in the case was a 63-year-old longshoreman who worked on docks in Galveston for many years. Lykes Brothers was a Louisiana company that for seven years transported asbestos from South Africa to Galveston, packed into burlap bags.
According to the testimony of multiple longshoremen, when they opened the ship hatches in Texas, they would find loose asbestos in the holds. The asbestos dust could be seen floating in clouds in the air. The workers sometimes had to drink water, wipe their mouths, or cough and spit to clear the asbestos out of their mouths and throats.
Stacking the bags of asbestos on the dock would also cause asbestos to escape into the air. Finally, after the bags of asbestos were removed, workers would clean out the ship holds. This included sweeping the loose asbestos on the floor, which was sometimes several inches thick.
What about Dock Workers, Stevedores or Longshoremen Who Were Exposed to Asbestos Many Years Ago?
Unfortunately, those who were consistently exposed to asbestos many years in the past can still be in great danger. Mesothelioma and other illnesses related to asbestos exposure develop slowly. In fact, it can take decades for some people to become aware of symptoms.
Call with Questions
At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, we believe that a fair and just society must demand that wrongdoers be held accountable for their actions. If you’ve been exposed to asbestos or diagnosed with mesothelioma, you undoubtedly have questions. We are always happy to talk with you, and to attempt to provide the answers you need. And if you need representation by experienced mesothelioma lawyers, we are here to help.