There has been limited information concerning the prevalence of radiologically evident parenchymal and pleural fibrosis consistent with prior exposure to asbestos among merchant marine seamen, despite the wide use of asbestos in ship construction until the late 1970s and subsequent exposure of seamen to the asbestos that had been installed. A total of 3324 chest radiographs (1985-7) of long term United States seamen were reviewed. One third (34.8%) had parenchymal or pleural abnormalities, or both (ILO classification); pleural changes were predominant. Abnormalities increased with longer duration from onset of shipboard exposure (as defined by first year at sea). The prevalence of asbestotic changes was greater among seamen who had served in the engine department (391/420; 42.5%) compared with seamen in other departments, including deck (301/820; 36.6%), steward (278/981; 28.4%), or with service in multiple departments (167/541; 30.9%). Since many vessels, particularly those built before 1978, contain asbestos materials, appropriate engineering controls (including complete removal, if possible) are required as well as appropriate medical surveillance for those who served aboard such ships.
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