It is no secret that shipyard workers were often exposed to asbestos, and therefore, now have an increased risk of developing an asbestos-related disease, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, a deadly cancer affecting the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen with often decades-long latency periods.
A new study of 4,702 shipyard workers employed at the Coast Guard Shipyard in Baltimore in the 1950s and 1960s found, using standard mortality ratios, that exposure to five different types of chemicals—solvents, lead, oils/greases, wood dust and asbestos—all raised the risk of pleural mesothelioma and lung cancer, according to Surviving Mesothelioma.
Researchers suggest the results are due to the pervasive presence of asbestos in shipyards, which may have altered their efforts to study the effects of the other chemicals. “Findings…suggested that the excesses from these other exposures may be due to residual confounding from asbestos exposure,” the study concludes.
A previous study by the same research team found that—unsurprisingly—the longer a worker was employed at the shipyard, the higher his risk of death from all causes, including lung cancer and mesothelioma, according to the news source.
Mesothelioma in particular is difficult to diagnose and treat because it is a biopersistent, meaning it is difficult for the lungs to expel the toxic fibers once inhaled, leading to symptoms decades later. In the prior study, workers developed symptoms an average of 31 years after they were last exposed to asbestos. Through increased regulation, current shipyard workers have seen better safety standards, though the danger still lurks. Dismantling old ships still carries asbestos exposure risk.