A new data analysis indicates that the potential for asbestos exposure in Hawai‘i and the U.S. Pacific Islands could be significantly higher than previously thought. The finding is serious as the latency period between exposure and disease with asbestos can be up to 50 years or more.

Shipbuilding and repair facilities located in the islands are one reason for the 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.

In addition, many asbestos-containing materials were used to construct military and civilian buildings in the 20th century. 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 begin to show symptoms of the disease until 10 to 40 years after the initial exposure. Most people diagnosed with mesothelioma are in their 50’s, 60’s 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.

The Galiher Law Firm has been representing victims of mesothelioma in Hawai‘i for over 30 years. For information, visit GaliherLaw.com.