The recent scrapping of the onetime tanker Exxon Valdez, infamous for its devastating 1989 oil spill in Alaska's Prince Edward Sound, again underscored the dangers of maritime asbestos. The Exxon Valdez's final resting ground was on a beach by the coast city of Alang in India, as the German news site Spiegel Online reports.
Even in its demise, the ship provoked controversy, arriving in India over the protests of local environmentalists, as an article in the Los Angeles Times notes. Seeking to feed India's scrap metal industry, a local wrecking and salvage company bought the Exxon Valdez last spring for $16 million. Soon after, Indian environmentalists asked the national high court to block the Exxon Valdez's entry into what is called the world's largest ship graveyard on their coastline. The activists were worried about the ship's asbestos contents, as well as its mercury and arsenic.
The court sided with the scrapping firm. Eventually the ship, like many other vessels sold for scrap in India, was torn apart as it sat on the beach. Unfortunately for the workers, who are only paid a few rupees a day, scrapping old vessels is dangerous, dirty work.
Asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, oil, and heavy metals are almost always present on old ships. There are few safety precautions in place to protect the workers as they blowtorch, saw, and drill ship components apart. Like the people who once built vessels, the workers now taking them apart are at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.
Because asbestos is cheap, abundant, fire-retardant, and durable, it was used extensively in shipbuilding for much of the twentieth century. The U.S. Navy in particular made heavy use of asbestos before its risks became widely known. From World War II until the 1970s, asbestos was commonly used in bulkhead systems, insulation, ceiling tiles, fire-resistant sheets, boilers, electrical fixtures, steam pipes, and many other products.
Have you been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-caused disease? Do you believe you were exposed to asbestos at a jobsite? You may be entitled to financial compensation through an asbestos lawsuit. To learn more about your legal options, please Sokolove Law for a free case evaluation.