This case involves a nuclear submarine machinist who was exposed to insulation dust for many years in the Navy. The machinist served on a submarine that was in the shipyard being overhauled and he had daily exposure to dust from insulation replacement taking place in his work area. The machinist was also exposed to insulation dust when he brushed up against the insulation covering 90 percent of the submarine’s piping. Later in his career, the machinist was transferred to another submarine where he was exposed to dust from insulation replacement work that was going on while the submarine was being overhauled. The machinist’s job involved doing repairs to valves and pumps and he was often exposed to insulation dust when handling the insulation. The machinist’s job also involved working with gaskets that were made of asbestos. The machinist regularly had to remove old gaskets and this process caused asbestos dust to enter the air. The machinist later developed T-Cell Lymphoma and mesothelioma, consequently suing the manufacturer of the gaskets for not warning him about the environmental dangers of being exposed to asbestos.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. How could a nuclear submarine machinist develop mesothelioma from handling insulation and removing gaskets on a submarine in the Navy?
Expert Witness Response
The US Navy began studying the risks and prevalence of asbestos-related cancers in the 1940’s and by the late 1960’s, the Navy knew that asbestos exposure from insulation products could cause cancer. Despite knowing about this danger, the Navy did not stop using products which contained asbestos, such as packing and gaskets. The Navy sometimes failed to warn workers on submarines about taking precautions to prevent asbestos exposure and in many cases failed to explicitly warn workers about the dangers of getting cancer from asbestos dust. The company that made the gaskets in this case probably failed to make sure that Navy workers knew proper procedures for removing gaskets. In order to remove a gasket, a worker must first make sure that the old gasket is completely removed and that the flange faces are clean. Usually, a worker has to scrape flange faces to do this. If a worker wire-brushes or scrapes an asbestos gasket, this can release asbestos dust that can be inhaled. Many employers and gasket manufacturers are negligent because they might not provide instructions to workers to reduce or eliminate dust when changing a gasket. The company had a duty to instruct Navy workers to use respiratory protection and also to instruct Navy workers who had been working with the gaskets to get chest x-rays. These measures were needed because scraping and wire-brushing of asbestos-containing gaskets can cause exposure to levels of asbestos that exceed background by more than 300,000 times. If a Navy worker had repeated exposure to this level of airborne asbestos concentration, this could eventually cause malignant mesothelioma.