Saturday, February 1, 2014

Mesothelioma - A Big Word With a Terrible Implication

Have you ever toured one of the great World War II Battleship museums, like the USS North Carolina in Wilmington, NC or the USS Massachusetts in Fall River, MA?  It is fascinating stuff.  You can go all over the ship, from the bridge and the gigantic gun turrets to deep below the water line, and get a sense what it was like to be one of 1,500 - 2,000 men living aboard one of these ships in war time.  You can even get to the engine rooms with the massive power plants for the ship.  And while you are down there, you can see some of the heavy use of asbestos made on these ships - and in so many other places at the time, and since.

I remember the first time I saw this, it struck me how much the men who built and later served in these ships must have been exposed to asbestos, a valuable and useful mineral with a terrible cost: mesothelioma.  This is a lethal cancer of the lungs that is only caused by asbestos fiber inhalation.  Thus, it is a totally preventable cancer.  Yet, about 30 million pounds is used annually in the USA.

US Navy veterans of World War II and the Korean War have the highest incidence of asbestos related diseases.  But of course, many others are afflicted as well.  I have wondered for some time if my father could have been one of them.  In the late 1930's through the mid-40's as a young man, he worked in ship yards as a shipwright and later as a naval architect, helping to build and design the ships that helped the men and women of that generation literally save the world.  Forty years later, he was dying of a terrible lung cancer.  It was not necessarily mesothelioma - he had been a smoker earlier in his life.  But he certainly had been exposed to asbestos, and that could have been the cause of his death in 1983.

At the time my dad was working in the shipping industry, very little was known about the hazards of asbestos.  That is not true today.  Should we still be using so much of it?  What will the cost be in 30 years to those handling it today?  No level of exposure to asestos is safe.

Want to learn more about this not too well known cancer?  Here is an excellent fact sheet about mesothelioma.

3 comments:

Happyone said...

Yes, I have toured a few ships in my time.
Ken was in the Navy for 20 years and was only on a ship for 5 weeks!!

My step father was on a ship during the Korean War and loved it!!

Racn4acure said...

They are pretty cool ships, amazing really when you think what ships were like even 50 years before. I bet they had some adventures along the way, especially your step-dad. thank them for their service.

Happyone said...

I will. : ) My step-dad is really special to me. : )