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Asbestos News

he Oriental Nicety, a retired oil tanker, is sitting in the waters of the bay off of Alang, India. And it is causing problems.  If that name doesn't sound familiar, try
With risk of asbestos exposure, Exxon Valdez may continue to pollute
The Oriental Nicety, a retired oil tanker, is sitting in the waters of the bay off of Alang, India. And it is causing problems.

If that name doesn't sound familiar, try "Dong Fang Ocean," its handle when it collided with a container ship in 2010. Or better yet, how about "Exxon Valdez"? That was its name in 1989, when it ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the water.

Though it might seem like this ship's days of polluting are over, Indian officials disagree. That's because the Valdez, which is waiting to be scrapped, may be lined with asbestos, the toxic mineral known to cause malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM).

Ships and asbestos once went hand in hand

In the U.S., a significant proportion of MPM patients either worked in the shipbuilding industry or rode aboard asbestos-lined vessels in, say, the Navy. The connection between mesothelioma and asbestos exposure aboard ships has been thoroughly documented. Less well known, though, are the respiratory dangers associated with ship breaking.

This industry accomplishes exactly what you might think: It exists to break down old ships and sell their parts for scrap. While it is a necessary endeavor, it entails some risks. Older vessels may contain mercury, asbestos or arsenic, substances that can damage the environment and endanger public health.

Unfortunately, in industrialized nations like the U.S., eliminating such materials is expensive and makes ship breaking cost-prohibitive. According to the Los Angeles Times, this has led the ship breaking industry to flourish in developing nations like India, where health regulations are loose or nonexistent.

Valdez could lead to MPM, other respiratory illnesses

The working conditions at ship breaking stations, like the one in Alang, are nothing short of appalling. Metallic scrap, dust and smoke are everywhere, including - as the newspaper wryly pointed out - next to an asbestos exposure treatment facility.

In a recent UK Guardian article, Nazmul Islam, the secretary of the Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association, noted that as little as three years ago, his state's ship breaking industry had no asbestos storage facilities.

Presumably they left it out in the elements or piled loosely in a warehouse.

The Times explained that the Exxon Valdez could very well contain asbestos of its own, since a 2006 Indian investigation found that 16 percent of scrapped vessels contained the dangerous mineral.

Public health investigators have expressed concern for the Alang ship breakers, whose work often prioritizes speed over safety. Currently, the Valdez has been denied port entry until inspectors can check it for asbestos.
6/14/12

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