Of all the hazards that shipyard workers need to think about, toxic chemical exposure probably isn’t the first that comes to mind. However, maybe it should be.
The CDC reports that chemical hazards in shipyards and among maritime workers are likely behind the excess cancer rates found in all kinds of workers in that industry. Fatalities due to cancer among shipyard workers are higher than that for all other U.S. workers, and nonfatal illnesses are about twice as high.
What kinds of toxins do shipyard workers need to worry about?
The biggest chemical hazards to shipyard workers come from things that can be inhaled – although injuries related to skin contact, eye contact and ingestion cannot be discounted. Some of the most common chemicals shipyard workers are likely to encounter include:
- Asbestos: While technically a mineral that is found in nature and not a chemical, this is a toxic substance that is still widely in use in shipyards and the maritime industry as a whole — particularly older vessels. The tiny fibers that get loose can be breathed in by workers and result in mesothelioma and other cancers years (or decades) down the road.
- Benzene: This is a major chemical component in both gasoline and many industrial chemicals, including the solvents used to clean equipment. Exposure to benzene is linked to diseases like acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, among others.
- Chlorine: This is widely used in the maritime industry to disinfect equipment from the algae and other small life forms that are found in seawater. Unfortunately, chlorine can be toxic in large doses – and it can react with other chemicals (like ammonia) to create poisonous gasses.
If you’re a shipyard worker or former shipyard worker and you believe your illness was caused by toxic exposure in your workplace, you need to learn more about your rights under maritime law. Experienced legal guidance can help.