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Malignant mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. There is a latency period of 20 to 50 years or more between initial exposure and development of the disease with the average being between 35 and 40 years. Rare instances have been documented when the interval was less than 20 years.

The incidence of mesothelioma rises with the intensity and duration of exposure to asbestos. However, there are numerous cases of mesothelioma among people with very little occupational exposure or even household exposure. There are cases of people getting mesothelioma 30 or 40 years after a summer job working construction, and cases of housewives or children being exposed from work clothing. Many people being diagnosed with mesothelioma now were exposed in the Navy many years ago, often unknowingly.

Materials Containing Asbestos

Most insulation materials before the mid-1970s contained asbestos. Many other construction materials also contained asbestos. Some of the most common products were:

  • Insulation on pipes
  • Boiler insulation
  • Insulating cements, plasters, and joint compounds that came in powder form and created a lot of dust before being completely mixed with water.
  • Fireproofing spray
  • Firebrick and gunnite used for internal insulation of furnaces, boilers, and other vessels
  • Roof, floor, and ceiling tiles.
  • Transite siding
  • Brakes and clutches


The following tradesmen could have worked around asbestos:

  • Insulators (also known as asbestos workers) who actually installed insulation
  • Boilermakers who constructed boilers which were often several stories high and filled with insulation
  • Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters who fitted and welded pipes together and often worked in small unventilated compartments in ships where large quantities of insulation were used
  • Plasterers who worked with fireproofing spray on steel beams
  • Shipyard workers and Navy personnel
  • Electricians, mechanics
  • Bricklayers; millwrights; carpenters; and other building trades workers
  • Steel workers; refinery and other industrial workers;
  • Maintenance workers; laborers; many others.

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Industrial sites typically had the heaviest exposure. These include shipyards where ships were constructed or overhauled, power plants, refineries, paper mills, manufacturing plants, foundries, and construction sites..

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