If you work on a fishing boat, you have to worry about things like repetitive motion injuries, falling overboard, accidents with machinery and vessel disasters, among other things. It’s no wonder that the fatality rate among commercial fishermen is 29 times greater than the national average.
There’s one hazard of commercial fishing that may go overlooked, however: the potential for exposure to toxic chemicals.
It’s estimated that there are more than 31 million pounds of munitions resting in the waters off the Gulf of Mexico and by the shores of 16 different states. Many of those are chemical weapons containing mustard gas and other nerve agents.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s not uncommon to pull up an item designed for chemical warfare when you’re pulling in a shellfish haul or dragging up your nets. Mustard gas is probably the most common thing a crew will encounter, and exposure to such chemicals can leave crew members with severe burns. Even if they escape that fate, they may develop damage to their nervous system or bone marrow that could come back to haunt them in the future.
Many times, the containers holding such weapons are heavily deteriorated when they’re pulled up with a catch, so a person may not even be sure what kind of exposure they’ve suffered. Be on the alert if you experience:
- Unexplained weakness
- Burning eyes
- Burns or blisters on your skin
- Trouble breathing
If you suspect exposure to toxic chemicals after a haul, it’s essential to get away from the toxic material, get out of your clothing and wash yourself thoroughly with soap and water as quickly as possible. You should also obtain medical treatment as soon as you can.
If you were injured by a toxic chemical while working on a commercial fishing boat, find out more about your right to compensation and benefits.