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You are one of the 35,000 civilian blue-collar workers employed directly by the U.S. Navy. Or you are one of the many tens of thousands more who work for private firms under contract to that branch of the military.
Either way, you proudly perform difficult jobs right alongside men and women in uniform.
You perform those jobs in a variety of settings. One of them is aboard ship. Another is in yards where ships are built or retrofitted. Yet another is shore installations.
In those settings, you come into contact with many risks to your health. A health risk that long has worried civilian employees of the Navy — and uniformed Navy personnel as well — is asbestos exposure.
Your exposure to asbestos in your capacity of working for the Navy puts you at moderate to high risk of developing mesothelioma.
As a Navy civilian employee or employee of a Navy contractor, you are likely to encounter asbestos while working on pre-1980s:
These products and materials — and many others — often contain asbestos. It is this asbestos that causes health problems in Navy civilian workers like you.
Asbestos is a mineral that manufacturers of products and materials once used with wild abandon.
It was a perfect mineral for use in any kind of machinery or system that generated enormous heat. Boilers do that. So do engines, furnaces, forges, friction brakes, welding equipment, and more.
Asbestos was perfect for those heat generators because it made an excellent barrier that kept high temperatures away from people and flammable objects.
Asbestos was also excellent at keeping fire penned up or stopping it from spreading.
So, basically, anything that had asbestos added or applied to it became fireproofed and heat-shielded.
All of that made it very, very cheap. It was great for the bottom line, and it worked like a charm — what wasn’t there to love about asbestos?
Well, for one, it was deadly to humans. And it’s not like they only discovered this deadliness yesterday. They’ve known about this danger for decades.
It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the U.S. government stepped in and starting curbing use of asbestos. Even so, you can still find plenty of asbestos lurking around.
Mostly, you find it today in buildings put up before the 1980s. The materials used in constructing millions of residential dwellings, commercial offices, industrial spaces and institutional structures contained asbestos then and they still do today.
You can also find asbestos today in ships launched before the bans went into effect or that make use of equipment that was new 40 years ago.
Asbestos becomes health hazard when it breaks free of the product or material in which it is contained.
That can happen when the product or material is cut, hammered, clamped, drilled, bent, chipped, welded or just generally banged up.
Translation — asbestos breaks free when you work on things that have asbestos in or on them.
Asbestos that breaks free goes into the air. If it breaks free outdoors or in an extremely well-ventilated place, the health risk to you is small.
However, if asbestos breaks free indoors — especially in a confined space with poor ventilation — the health risk to you is severe.
The reason is that airborne asbestos you encounter will either be inhaled or swallowed.
Once it gets inside you, it’s there for life.
Eventually, it causes mesothelioma to show up on the lining of your lung, abdomen or heart.
As a Navy civilian employee or as an employee of a private firm under contract to the Navy, you may be represented by one of several labor unions dedicated to protecting the rights of workers in your trade.
All of these unions have taken a stand against mesothelioma. Some unions’ stands are more comprehensive than others.
At root, all of them desire to keep you safe from asbestos exposure so that you never develop mesothelioma. And, if you do, to make sure you get the medical attention this horrific cancer demands.
For more details, contact your union today.
Meanwhile, you might also consider participating in the Navy’s Asbestos Medical Surveillance Program (AMSP).
AMSP is said by the Navy to be the largest such surveillance program in the world.
AMSP keeps records on those of its civilian employees — and uniformed personnel — who were exposed to asbestos on the job.
These records help the Navy help you to get treatment for mesothelioma at the earliest possible stage, when chances of keeping the disease bogged down on its beachhead inside you are greatest.
A problem for many tradesmen who don’t participate in surveillance programs like this is they tend to forget they were exposed to asbestos.
It takes as many as 50 years for asbestos trapped in your lungs or abdomen to trigger mesothelioma. So it’s easy to neglect checkups that would give you warning of the trouble brewing within.
Surveillance programs are designed to prevent that from happening to you.
For more information about the Navy’s AMSP, visit the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center Occupational and Environmental Medicine Division website.