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Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure for Boilermakers and Boiler Technicians

Boilermakers and boiler technicians spent shifts in hot temperatures operating or repairing boilers, which involved immense amounts of heat. Asbestos is a counteragent to heat, absorbing it and protecting other materials from overheating or catching fire. Many boilers and boiler rooms on U.S. military ships included asbestos, which was a hazard for boilermen on these vessels.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent

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Important Facts About Asbestos Exposure for Boilermakers and Boiler Technicians

  • Asbestos was present in engine rooms on U.S. Navy ships due to the high temperatures. Boiler technicians and boilermakers were exposed to asbestos and likely did not wear protective equipment.
  • Boiler technicians reportedly account for many cases of mesothelioma cancer among U.S. Navy veterans.
  • Mesothelioma Guide interviewed a Navy veteran who worked for approximately four years in ships’ engine rooms. He described the heavy usage of asbestos on the boilers and piping leading to the boilers. Unfortunately, he passed away due to mesothelioma cancer.

Asbestos Hazards in Boiler Rooms: Boilers, Insulation, Piping

Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, is capable of absorbing and resisting heat. These properties made asbestos highly valued anywhere a fire was possible. It became an industrial protectant and building material during the 20th century for wires, pipes, boilers, insulation, ovens and much more.

Boiler rooms were essential parts of military ships. Also called fire rooms, these locations are where water is brought to a boil before being transferred to the adjacent engine room for powering the ship. Boilers require high temperatures, which is why asbestos was present

Asbestos hazards in boiler rooms weren’t limited to just the boilers themselves. There were many ways to implement asbestos to prevent fires in a flammable room like a boiler room. Asbestos may have been in the insulation within the walls of the boiler room, the floor, the ceiling, piping and more. The use of asbestos in boilers and boiler rooms makes boilermakers and technicians among some of the high-risk occupations for asbestos exposure

In one study published in the International Journal of Radiation Biology, boiler technicians were mentioned as facing a high risk of exposure. Another scientific journal article states pipe and boiler insulation contains more asbestos than any other building material.

Health Risks for Boilermakers and Boiler Technicians

Asbestos was used to preserve and insulate building materials. However, exposure to the substance can lead to serious health conditions. Asbestos hazards in boiler rooms can lead to several types of cancer.

Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of a rare cancer called mesothelioma. Among other deadly conditions, it can also cause lung cancer, and asbestosis, which is a deadly lung tissue scarring condition.

Although asbestos was often used for its durability, it is fragile. Because of its friability, asbestos can easily break apart and send toxic dust into the air. Once the tiny asbestos fibers enter the air, they can be easily inhaled or swallowed. This will allow the sharp fibers to travel to the lining of the lungs or abdomen, potentially causing irritation, cell mutation and tumor formation.

When asbestos was being used throughout various industries, the health risks were unknown to the workers and other users. The companies responsible for manufacturing and distributing asbestos products knew of the hazards of asbestos and did not disclose the risks to the public or their employees.

Most of the companies involved in asbestos production were in the industrial sector, which often includes heavy labor and machinery. These jobs were very hands-on, and the people working in these environments were unknowingly exposed to asbestos daily and then also exposing their families to the toxic dust through their person and clothing.

Protective equipment or health warnings generally were not provided to employees or consumers, and the companies responsible need to be held accountable.

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Mesothelioma Among Boiler Technicians

Military personnel who worked in boiler or engine rooms on ships face a higher-than-usual rate of mesothelioma. This cancer forms in the lining of the lungs or abdominal cavity. There are approximately 2,500 cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year, and most have a life expectancy of 12-14 months.

Around 33% of mesothelioma cases are among military veterans, some of which were boiler technicians. Boiler room techs and other U.S. Navy ship jobs like firemen, pipefitters, shipfitters, water tenders, millwrights, and machinists accounted for 55% of mesothelioma deaths among U.S. Navy veterans.

Jerry Samuels, a military veteran who passed away due to mesothelioma, worked in these boiler rooms for around four years during his Navy service. He regularly was exposed to asbestos in boilers and other engine room equipment. In an interview with MesotheliomaGuide, he said that he and other seamen did not wear protective equipment because they were unaware of the dangers of asbestos.

The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Shipbuilders and Blacksmiths has a page dedicated to asbestos dangers. Moffitt Cancer Center lists boilermakers and boiler technicians as one of the jobs facing the highest risk of asbestos exposure during the 20th century.

What Boiler Technicians Can Do About Their Mesothelioma

Boilermakers and boiler techs can take action if they have mesothelioma. They have two options, wand both many be available depending on the case:

VA claims provide a monthly benefit to veterans with mesothelioma. This amount has helped many boilermen who developed this cancer from their military service.

Legal claims may include an asbestos trust fund payment or a lawsuit. A lawsuit can end in a settlement or a verdict. Asbestos manufacturers sold the mineral to companies for use in their boilers and boiler rooms. These manufacturing companies continued profiting off asbestos despite knowing there were grave risks. They should be held accountable.

If you’d like to discuss your options as a former or current boiler worker with mesothelioma, contact our patient advocate team. Navy veteran Cmdr. Carl Jewett is available at cjewett@mesotheliomaguide.com.

Sources & Author

  1. Asbestos. International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. Retrieved from: https://boilermakers.org/news/health-safety/safety-corner/asbestos. Accessed: 01/12/2021.
  2. Moffitt Cancer Center. Mesothelioma Causes. Retrieved from: https://moffitt.org/cancers/mesothelioma/causes/. Accessed: 01/12/2021.
  3. A 26-Year-Old Male with Mesothelioma Due to Asbestos Exposure. Case Reports in Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/crim/2011/951732/. Accessed: 01/12/2021.
  4. Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma Mortality among Atomic Veterans. International Journal of Radiation Biology. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30513236/. Accessed: 01/12/2021.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.