Asbestos Puts Shipbreaking Workers at Risk for Many Cancers

Research & Clinical Trials
Reading Time: 3 mins
Publication Date: 08/04/2015
Fact Checked
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Reviewed is the nation’s most trusted mesothelioma resource

The Mesothelioma Center at has provided patients and their loved ones the most updated and reliable information on mesothelioma and asbestos exposure since 2006.

Our team of Patient Advocates includes a medical doctor, a registered nurse, health services administrators, veterans, VA-accredited Claims Agents, an oncology patient navigator and hospice care expert. Their combined expertise means we help any mesothelioma patient or loved one through every step of their cancer journey.

More than 30 contributors, including mesothelioma doctors, survivors, health care professionals and other experts, have peer-reviewed our website and written unique research-driven articles to ensure you get the highest-quality medical and health information.

About The Mesothelioma Center at

  • Assisting mesothelioma patients and their loved ones since 2006.
  • Helps more than 50% of mesothelioma patients diagnosed annually in the U.S.
  • A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
  • 5-star reviewed mesothelioma and support organization.
Learn More About Us


"My family has only the highest compliment for the assistance and support that we received from The Mesothelioma Center. This is a staff of compassionate and knowledgeable individuals who respect what your family is experiencing and who go the extra mile to make an unfortunate diagnosis less stressful. Information and assistance were provided by The Mesothelioma Center at no cost to our family."
Mesothelioma patient’s daughter
  • Google Review Rating
  • BBB Review Rating

How to Cite’s Article


Povtak, T. (2020, October 16). Asbestos Puts Shipbreaking Workers at Risk for Many Cancers. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from


Povtak, Tim. "Asbestos Puts Shipbreaking Workers at Risk for Many Cancers.", 16 Oct 2020,


Povtak, Tim. "Asbestos Puts Shipbreaking Workers at Risk for Many Cancers." Last modified October 16, 2020.

The threat from asbestos exposure in the ship recycling industry goes far beyond the realm of mesothelioma, raising the incidence rates for a wide variety of cancers, according to a recent study examining the health history of workers in Taiwan.

Although the relationship to mesothelioma is well documented, the latest study also found an alarming rise in the incidence of esophageal, liver, tracheal, bile duct and lung cancers for those exposed to asbestos on scrapped ships.

Shipyards are dangerous places, and the shipbuilding industry is known as a high-risk occupation because of the heavy reliance on asbestos products in the past.

And while the use of asbestos in newer ships is significantly lower, because less toxic materials replaced it, working with older ships remains particularly dangerous if precautions are not taken consistently.

This study was one of the few that involved only “shipbreaking,” which is the dismantling of old ships for salvage or scrap. It also examined cancers beyond mesothelioma, a cancer caused almost exclusively by inhalation or ingestion of asbestos.

The study, published in the on-line medical journal PLOS One, was linked to the Taiwan Cancer Registry and involved 4,227 workers from the 1985 Kaohsiung Shipbreaking Workers Union who belonged to the Labor Insurance Program.

They were followed until 2008. There were 940 deaths and 436 cancer cases reported. Their numbers were compared to a control group of 22,135 who worked elsewhere.

Researchers from the National Health Research Institute and three universities in Taiwan participated in the study.

Asbestos Leads to Many Cancers

“Shipbreaking workers had a significant percentage difference of cancer in comparison with matched-cohort,” the authors concluded. “Overall, cancer also was seen in a dose-dependent relationship with asbestos exposure.”

The study revealed that shipbreakers had a 9.9 percent chance of a cancer diagnosis, compared to 6.7 percent for those in the control group. They also were diagnosed at a younger age, 54.5 years old, compared with 57 years for the control group.

The high rates of cancer incidence beyond mesothelioma were startling. Shipbreakers were 2.31 times more likely to be diagnosed with esophageal cancer, 1.6 times more likely with liver and bile duct cancer and 3.08 times more likely to get cancer of the lung, trachea or bronchus.

Previous studies from Finland and Norway included a 26 percent higher risk of lung cancer for shipyard workers.

Taiwan Is Home to the Shipbreaking Industry 

Taiwan played a particularly relevant role in the study because the small Pacific island is home to the largest shipbreaking operation in the world.

The authors estimated that 65 percent of all ships worldwide are crushed and recycled in Taiwan. It accounted for 67 million tons of recycled ship scrap during one 10-year period.

Older ships often included asbestos materials from bow to stern.

Asbestos was coveted in shipbuilding for its ability to strengthen and resist heat. It’s why U.S. Navy veterans have been hit especially hard by asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma.

As many as 300 different parts containing asbestos were commonly used on Navy ships built in the 20th century. Asbestos was used to insulate boilers and pipes and virtually everything on a military ship. It would resist heat, fire and corrosion.

The authors of the study called for “persistent monitoring,” of those in the shipbreaking industry, hoping it will detect any cancers in the earliest stages when they can be treated more effectively.

Connect with a Mesothelioma Doctor
Find a Top Specialist Near You