As a volunteer manning the the booth for the Marine Industries Association of S. Florida during the Miami Boat show this past February, I was approached by a prominent figure in the marine industry. He too is a member of the association and as we stood there saving the industry for the benefit of the world he asked for my opinion on what he thought were serious health hazards relative to fiberglass within the industry. It seems that he had watched more than one of his associates in the field die of lung cancer. It was his opinion that all the people who had died shared only the fact that they had all worked for years in the construction and repair of fiberglass boats. He was very upset at the loss of his friends and since my field is fundamental fiberglass education, he felt that I might shed a little light on the subject for him. His concern touched me and I began my research in earnest. It has always been my practice to explain the insidious effects of the many dangerous chemicals used in the FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic) industries to my students. Safety is always taught first and is the theme throughout the education process. But in digging deeper I find that the chemicals, as poisonous as they are, only tend to exacerbate a larger underlying element: the fiberglass itself.
I found two important pieces of information that I am compelled to pass on to my students and to those who will endeavor to self educate in the field.
NUMBER ONE...Fiberglass is dangerous. It has been called "The Asbestos of the 21st Century". The first connection between fiberglass fibers and pulmonary disease were reported by Walter J. Siebert, who investigated the health of workers with the cooperation of Owens Corning in 1941. An article in the NEW YORK TIMES, March 15, 1987, is titled: "EVIDENCE GROWS ON POSSIBLE LINK OF FIBERGLASS AND LUNG ILLNESS." Currently, California OSHA requires that all fiberglass be labeled "Possible Carcinogenic". Literally hundreds of studies over the years point to the fact that the microscopic shards in fiberglass dust have led to pulmonary problems all over the world.
NUMBER TWO... For every study exposing the hazards of fiberglass to the lungs, another study appears debunking it. I have found studies connecting fiberglass to lung diseases which are said to be languishing in the hands of lobbyists keeping them from being published.
Consider this: As of 1995 the major manufacturers were pumping out nearly 500 million pounds of fiberglass annually. The boating industry in Florida represents billions of dollars anually. These are not steel boats were talking about here. Who can guess what the industry generates nationwide or world wide for that matter. Economic benefits, it seems, always trump the hazards to the environment and all things that live within it. What a surprise.
So let's use our heads, shall we? Fiberglass composites and all their components are hazardous to your health and to your environment. If you disagree, that's fine too. If you do agree and you wish to continue to participate in this remarkable industry (as do I), then it is we, as individuals, who must take responsibility for our own health and for the health of this beautiful rock that we live on. A 3M N95 dust mask is about 99 cents at most supply houses. Far cheaper than a new pair of lungs. The EPA requires that you tent your work if you are sanding or grinding anything on a boat, including fiberglass, in any of our So. Florida boatyards. You and the yard risk hefty penalties if this law is not observed. Apparently someone is worried about Mother Nature. But there is no law that requires you to protect yourself. That's your responsibility. Now you have been duly warned. Do some additional research on your own and your eyes will be opened further. Your health is in your hands.