Some family members of Long Beach shipyard workers exposed to asbestos are themselves suffering from asbestosis, a debilitating lung disease that begins as shortness of breath and often deteriorates into cancer, according to a recently published medical study.
In May, 1981, Dr. Kaye H. Kilburn--a professor of internal medicine at USC Medical School--examined 1,018 Long Beach shipyard workers and their families for the effects of asbestos. Kilburn found that 64% of the 330 male shipyard workers tested had asbestosis; 22.3% of the 81 female shipyard workers had it; 11.3% of the 281 wives studied had the disease; 7.6% of the 76 sons had it and 2.1% of 144 daughters had it.
Only 912 of those examined could be used for the research project; the others were excluded because they were in categories that were too small or they had been exposed to asbestos in other occupations, Kilburn said.
"The most likely explanation is that the men brought it (asbestos) home on their clothing," said Kilburn, whose research appears in the June volume of the American Journal of Public Health. "They brought enough home that was spread through the house as a secondary exposure area that these otherwise unexposed people caught the disease."
Most family members had much less severe cases of the disease, and Kilburn is seeking out the estimated 500 women involved in the 1981 project to learn the course of the disease in its milder forms. The women in the study tended to have milder cases than the men.
"We already know about the course of severe asbestosis," Kilburn said. "We know less about less severe cases . . . and we also want to find out if smoking and air pollution make asbestosis worse over time." Kilburn said he has written to all 506 women and has reached about 250 of them.
He will be studying these women at Charter Suburban Hospital in Paramount through Sunday and urged the additional participants to call him at 531-3110 evenings and weekends or 224-7514 during working hours.