Here in the middle of April, Americans are enjoying the heart of spring and planning ahead for summer vacation at the same time. For those who enjoy the water, this often means sprucing up a beloved boat. Because of this, I’d like to remind sailing enthusiasts that when it comes to making sure a vessel is seaworthy, the risk of asbestos exposure should be considered.
It’s true that asbestos is more commonly associated with large maritime vessels, such as naval ships that were used during the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, asbestos may also be present on some recreational boats.
However, that doesn’t mean that you and your family have to stay on land throughout the entire sailing season.
What items on a boat contain asbestos?
Whether it’s in an old house or in your boat, asbestos behaves the same way: It usually won’t endanger you as long as it’s left intact and undisturbed. But where exactly on a sailboat would you find asbestos?
Asbestos-containing products on a boat may include, but are not limited to, caulking, bedding compound, adhesives, sealant, exhaust riser insulation and cloth insulation that’s used to cover electrical wires. Asbestos may also be used to thicken certain resins.
Sailors should also be aware of whether there’s vermiculite onboard their vessels. Most of the vermiculite insulation that’s sold commercially in the U.S. comes from mines in Montana, which are known to have been contaminated by asbestos minerals. Unless you’re an expert on asbestos, it’s hard to tell whether the vermiculite you have is tainted, so your safest bet is to assume that it does contain asbestos.
The best way to find out if your boat has asbestos is to get a hold of the original design plans. Other than that, you should just try your best not to disturb anything that may contain the mineral.
If you still feel uneasy not knowing whether or not your boat has asbestos, there are companies that can conduct laboratory analyses if you provide them with material samples. For your safety, you shouldn’t collect these samples yourself. Instead, hire a professional who is specially trained to handle asbestos.
Try not to disturb the asbestos
In the U.S., asbestos-induced diseases, such as malignant pleural mesothelioma and lung cancer, claim the lives of nearly 10,000 individuals every year. It’s no wonder why people are concerned about the best ways to protect themselves.
Once you’ve identified asbestos-containing materials, leave them alone if you know they’re undamaged. Try to isolate the items so that no surrounding activity disturbs them. Also, do not handle these products with power tools, including drills, saws or sanders.
If there’s dust or debris that you’d like to clean up, be very careful not to kick mineral fibers up into the air. This means that you shouldn’t dust or sweep. Instead, use wet rags or a mop.
If you want to use a vacuum cleaner, sailing enthusiast Jessie K recommends using only a product that contains a HEPA filter. When you’re in your workshop, you can protect yourself with the help of a facial mask or respirator that has a filter designed to screen out asbestos fibers.