New data indicates that the asbestos exposure in Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands could be significantly higher than previously thought. The finding is serious, as the latency (delayed time period) between exposure and asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis, can be up to 50 years or more.

Seniors who worked or lived near shipbuilding and repair facilities are at heightened risk. Prior to the mid-1970s, asbestos was heavily used in the maintenance and repair of ships. Pearl Harbor, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands all had active military ports. Military and civilian workers at these sites were likely exposed to asbestos.

Hawai‘i has a history of widespread asbestos use, from public buildings to commercial establishments. Nearly every building in the state constructed before 1980 — including schools, state buildings and military bases — was built with asbestos products. As these buildings begin to deteriorate, need repair or are destroyed, they can continue to cause asbestos exposure.

Asbestos exposure is the cause of mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by the inhalation asbestos fibers. Mesothelioma victims typically do not show symptoms of the disease until 10 to 40 years after the initial exposure. Most people diagnosed with mesothelioma are in their 50s, 60s or older and only start to show symptoms in the later stages of the disease. Sadly, there is no cure.

This latency period creates information gaps regarding asbestos exposure and disease, especially in areas like the U.S. Pacific islands. The missing data is why professionals conclude that the actual prevalence of asbestos diseases is underestimated. For more information, please visit