Separate class-action lawsuits have been filed by merchant mariners claiming asbestos-laden products made by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber and B.F. Goodrich and used on commercial ships irreparably damaged their health.

The suit against Goodyear was filed Oct. 4 by David P. Witushynski of Avon Lake, Ohio, in Lorain County Common Pleas Court. Alan E. Wigton, of Mansfield, Ohio, filed a similar action against Goodrich in Richland County.Representatives of both companies, which made their names in tires, rubber and chemicals, had no immediate comment.

Both actions were filed on behalf of some 35,000 merchant mariners who have served on crews since World War II, according to their attorney, Leonard C. Jaques of Detroit. The average age of the plaintiffs is 67 "and they are dying off fast," the suits say.

The suits claim the seafarers were afflicted "in vast numbers" with asbestos-related diseases caused by exposure to the shipboard products.

"Whether they were working on watch, recreating off watch or sleeping in their bunks, they breathed the asbestos contaminated air without a thought of risk of harm," they state.

U.S. merchant ships were built with large amounts of asbestos insulation

from World War II to about 1977, the suits say. The insulation was used throughout the vessels, with the heaviest amount in the engine-casing area.

Although the insulation was often painted, the suits say that dust and fibers escaped because of the movement of the ship and the expansion and contraction of metal pipes.

Once the fibers became airborne, they were sucked through the ship's ventilation systems, then circulated to other parts of the vessel, the suits allege.

Goodyear has been a leader in furnishing the marine industry with asbestos products and packing under the trade name Goodyearite, the suits say, adding that these products "resulted in personal injuries and death caused from diseases that were inflicted upon crewmembers."

Further, they state, Goodyear and Goodrich "failed to ever give warnings to merchant seamen of (their) dangerous asbestos products."

The companies no longer make asbestos insulation. Goodyear makes tires and rubber products, while Goodrich is involved in specialty chemicals and aircraft systems and services.

Mr. Witushynski, who filed a similar action against Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., served aboard some 64 ships for about 12 companies since 1952, his suit says.

He suffers from "debilitating asbestotic disease to his lungs and respiratory anatomy," it says.

Mr. Wigton also sued the Lunkenheimer Co. of Cincinnati.

The suits request punitive and compensatory damages and call for jury trials.