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Old 20-12-2012, 11:21   #1
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Asbestos and Westsail (and others)?

Hi all,

Leafing through an old Westsail manual the other day, and I came across a reference to 'asbestos mish-mash', which is a rather cute name but with somewhat worrying implications! A brief trawl of Google brought up this thread on westsail.info, which talks a bit about how it was used. Another hit was a comment on a youtube video by an ex-Westsail worker who talked about the health effects of his working in the factory in the 1970s.
I also found this thread, which says that the W42 rudder design was changed in 1973 to remove the asbestos (although it wasn't only used in the rudder).

I previously had no idea that it was used in yacht structures (it seems such an illogical material to use apart from for thermal cladding). Having had to deal with this stuff on shore before I really don't want any more exposure, although I have been thinking about a Westsail project for a while. I was wondering if anyone here can shed any more light on the use of asbestos by Westsail or any other manufacturers during this period. Where and how was it used? Was it made illegal in 1973 as implied by the westsail.org thread, or did use continue? (I don't know much about asbestos law in the US). Does this mean boats after 1973 are safe?

Thanks!

Edit: I know I spelt it wrongly. Oops.
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Old 21-12-2012, 16:54   #2
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Re: Asbesdos and Westsail (and others)?

There is asbestos currently in many products sold today, the mfr's get away with it by stating "proprietary ingredients". There is so much asbestos in the soil that in Northern California it has been found in trees!
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Old 21-12-2012, 17:29   #3
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Re: Asbesdos and Westsail (and others)?

Asbestos fibers were quite commonly used in the '70s as a filler/thickener for epoxies (and polyesters). I recall quite well grabbing handfuls of the stuff, dumping it into a pot of epoxy, mixing it all up, and then using the thickened stuff for fillets. Super strong mixture, the asbestos added tensile strength out the kazoo (technical term ). Other fibers (like cotton) get used today, but none have the strength characteristics of asbestos.

My understanding (not a doctor or a lawyer), from a health perspective, is that asbestos is only dangerous when "friable", which basically means in the fiber form. All those fibers drifting around while I mixed the epoxy were not good. But, once mixed and cured the asbestos is essentially sealed away. In fact, one method of dealing with asbestos remediation is epoxy encapsulation.

Even when you sand the epoxy (again, my understanding) you don't get the fibers in their dangerous friable state, although who wants to find out? My opinion, wouldn't worry about it from a living on the boat perspective, there shouldn't be any asbestos in a friable state. When sanding take care not to breathe in the dust, but I think that applies across the board; epoxy, polyester, fiberglass, paint dust, and asbestos are all things you don't really want to have in your lungs. The mineral dusts (like asbestos and silica) can be the worst since the body has a hard time getting rid of them.

Lastly, most asbestos related health problems are related to chronic (prolonged) exposure. The NIH recommends additional chest x-ray screening for those exposed over a period of 10 or more years (exposure means breathing in asbestos fibers; skin contact, drinking it, etc. don't matter). As long as the stuff is encapsulated in the glue you shouldn't have any exposure. If you are really concerned it's not too expensive to have an indoor air sample collected and tested for asbestos floating around.
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Old 23-12-2012, 08:36   #4
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Re: Asbesdos and Westsail (and others)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dsanduril View Post
Asbestos fibers were quite commonly used in the '70s as a filler/thickener for epoxies (and polyesters). I recall quite well grabbing handfuls of the stuff, dumping it into a pot of epoxy, mixing it all up, and then using the thickened stuff for fillets. Super strong mixture, the asbestos added tensile strength out the kazoo (technical term ). Other fibers (like cotton) get used today, but none have the strength characteristics of asbestos.

My understanding (not a doctor or a lawyer), from a health perspective, is that asbestos is only dangerous when "friable", which basically means in the fiber form. All those fibers drifting around while I mixed the epoxy were not good. But, once mixed and cured the asbestos is essentially sealed away. In fact, one method of dealing with asbestos remediation is epoxy encapsulation.

Even when you sand the epoxy (again, my understanding) you don't get the fibers in their dangerous friable state, although who wants to find out? My opinion, wouldn't worry about it from a living on the boat perspective, there shouldn't be any asbestos in a friable state. When sanding take care not to breathe in the dust, but I think that applies across the board; epoxy, polyester, fiberglass, paint dust, and asbestos are all things you don't really want to have in your lungs. The mineral dusts (like asbestos and silica) can be the worst since the body has a hard time getting rid of them.

Lastly, most asbestos related health problems are related to chronic (prolonged) exposure. The NIH recommends additional chest x-ray screening for those exposed over a period of 10 or more years (exposure means breathing in asbestos fibers; skin contact, drinking it, etc. don't matter). As long as the stuff is encapsulated in the glue you shouldn't have any exposure. If you are really concerned it's not too expensive to have an indoor air sample collected and tested for asbestos floating around.
Thanks Dsanduril.

It seems reasonable to say that it's safe when encased in resin, but I didn't know about it remaining safe once the resin has been powdered. As you say though, I don't want to test this! If I end up having to deal with the stuff on a boat, it will be respirators all the way. Of course, keeping it wet is a good plan as well.

I'm a little surprised that the law seems fairly lax in the US. In the UK it's very heavily regulated indeed.
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Old 23-12-2012, 08:52   #5
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Re: Asbestos and Westsail (and others)?

As an aside, there used to be an asbestos factory near where I live, and it churned out so much of the stuff that children used to play with it in the streets like snow. Not all are dead (yet), so the people saying one fibre is a death sentence are clearly wrong. Like ionising radiation, a game of chance. Doesn't mean I like the stuff though.
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Old 23-12-2012, 09:37   #6
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Re: Asbestos and Westsail (and others)?

A former business partner of mine started his first business at the age of 19 removing asbestos from naval ships and submarines up in Norfolk...his oldest brother died about 3 yrs. ago from Mesotheleoma,his younger brother is suffering from it also, they are all in 60-70 yr. range...If reparticulated by sanding it can still get you,ugly stuff..
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Old 23-12-2012, 11:12   #7
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Re: Asbestos and Westsail (and others)?

Asbestos is one of the biggest scams by the Tort Lawyers association ever. Did you know that you can receive compensation just because you think you've been exposed to Asbestos without suffering any debilitating symptoms. Not that asbestos in powder form is not dangerous, just that the inordinate fear of it is. We've spent billions of dollars to remove it when it wasn't a problem just leaving it in place. As long as the asbestos is encapsulated, read painted, it is safe. The asbestos is an irritant, under the microscope it looks like the equivalent of concertina wire. Put the asbestos powder in the air in a confined space like a ship under construction or modification and the danger goes up. Most people won't be effected by casual contact but add cigarette smoking and the rate of affliction goes through the roof. The question of which is the problem, cigarettes or asbestos becomes a debatable issue.

As far as Westsail and asbestos, the amount of it in a boat is very very minimal as it was used as a filler only in resin. If you see a grey-green glob of resin, assume it was asbestos. Leave it alone and there is no danger. If you have to remove it, chipping it out with a chisel would be the prefered way to remove. It is probably safe to grind as the resin will still keep the nasty barbs of the microsopic particles encased. I'd still be careful but then I wouldn't grind any fiberglass without a particle mask today. Westsail had the stuff in an open drum on the factory floor. Anytime you needed a thickener, you'd just stick your hand in and scoop the asbestos powder into the resin. I bought a small bit of it from them. Scooped it into a small paper grocery bag with my hands. Used it in resin to glue battens to the hull to attach the ceilings.

I would have no concern with asbestos in a Westsail. Would assume that after they moved to the new factory in 1976, that asbestos was no longer an issue. IIRC, Crystaliner, who actually layed up Westsail's hulls and shared the sight of the original Westsail Factory with them, were the supplier of the asbestos.

The real problem with Asbestos is that little if any mitigation practices were instituted after they discovered it's deleterious health effects. By the 60's there was enough evidence accumulated to show that there was a need for careful handling of asbestos. Unfortunately, little of that knowledge was passed on and almost nothing done to protect those exposed to it. Westsail was just one example of open containers of asbestos fibers that were common in industries using the stuff. But then sawdust is also an issue that received scant attention. It was very uncommon to see a worker wearing any kind of dust protection back in those days and it wasn't because the employers were preventing them from wearing it.
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Old 23-12-2012, 11:27   #8
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Re: Asbestos and Westsail (and others)?

I had a close relative who worked in the public utility sector. Back in the days when he worked in them, the coal fired power plants all had burn chambers with asbestos mud sprayed liners. These burn "chambers" were very large rooms, and he was tasked with the periodic removal and replacement of the mud. During the removal process of the previous "shell," the mud dust often filled the room with thick clouds, sometimes making it difficult to see from one end of the chamber to the other end. My relative died of asbestos induced issues, but he was near eighty when he passed away. Asbestos seems to have a long "incubation" time to distress ....
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Old 23-12-2012, 11:47   #9
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Re: Asbestos and Westsail (and others)?

Asbestos that is embedded in something is not a health issue.... unless you are grinding it. In fact it's great stuff for a lot of uses. Funny you brought this up....yesterday I passed the old house of a friend of mine from when I was a kid. That house has those asbestos shingles on the exterior walls. The house hasnt been painted ever , ..... in the last 55 years. The shingles look great! Not sure of the implication of the stuff in fiberglass resin as far as benefits. But it might be a great thing....
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Old 23-12-2012, 11:49   #10
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Re: Asbestos and Westsail (and others)?

"Westsail was just one example of open containers of asbestos fibers that were common in industries using the stuff. But then sawdust is also an issue that received scant attention. It was very uncommon to see a worker wearing any kind of dust protection back in those days and it wasn't because the employers were preventing them from wearing it." ...

IMHO, the reason that workers tended not to wear protective gear was related more to testosterone than anything else. I once worked for an outside contractor, servicing big automotive companies. We provided software for production floor monitoring purposes. One of these companies employed a series of small electric "blast" furnaces, built in groups of ten or twenty into a concrete deck. Each measured six or eight feet in diameter, was bored into the concrete, and then lined with silica mud. The silica liners had to be cracked out and replaced periodically. During removal processes, dust hung thick in the air.

To my astonishment, the floor workers refused to wear the gear. Plenty of it could be seen hanging near entrances to the production floor, accompanied by big signs stating that it was "necessary."

The reason the workers would'nt wear protective gear?

It just wasn't the "macho" thing to do. The protective gear was for the weenies ....
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