Asbestos Use and the U.S. Navy
There were very good reasons for the Navy to use asbestos in the construction of its ships. In the early days of the 20th century and even before that, asbestos was associated with safety because of its resistance to heat and flame. As long ago as the Civil War, steam frigates and ironclads were fabricated using asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) with the hope that adding the material to parts and insulation would help to provide added protection for those on board. It is for that reason that almost every vessel that the U.S. Navy used and built between World War II and the 1970s made heavy use of asbestos: engineers envisioning the ships coming under attack used tons of ACMS to minimize the impact of fires and explosions.
Despite its unquestionable usefulness, the use of asbestos proved to have been a deadly mistake. As the material broke down, its fibers were ingested or inhaled by all of those who worked with it or near it, and once it was lodged in the body it caused irrevocable damage, eventually leading to mesothelioma and other fatal asbestos-related diseases. Though this tragedy impacted members of all branches of the military, none were effected as much as those who served in the U.S. Navy, where service men and women lived in ships that were constructed using asbestos, and in some cases worked in the shipyards where the ships were built.
Though the motivation for using asbestos had only the best intention, it ended up having the opposite effect, and unfortunately this coincided with the largest expansion and construction-phase in U.S. history. As a result of the U.S involvement in World War II and the concerns of the Cold War that followed, over 124,000 ships were built for American use between 1939 and 1945. Some were warships and some had less illustrious uses: many of the ships were needed to transport military personnel across the Atlantic and into the Pacific theater, while others simply were simply needed to carry supplies. Whatever their purpose, because each ship carried combustible fuel and might be used to carry munitions, they all had to be extensively prepared for fire and explosion, and as a result all of them were built with large quantities of asbestos.
The list of vessels built during those years is impressive. It includes 27 aircraft carriers, 10 battleships, 211 submarines, 110 escort carriers, and over 900 escort vessels, cruisers and destroyers. Not only were those who were transported and who served on these ships exposed to asbestos, but so were all of those involved in every phase of their construction. With over 3.3 million service men and women on these ships at some point and thousands of shipyard workers from Virginia, Washington State, Maine and California working to construct and repair them, it is no wonder that so many were later diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases, and continue to be today. Of the approximately 3,500 people diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, roughly one third served in the U.S. military.
The Aftermath of Asbestos Use in the Navy
The diseases caused by exposure to asbestos have an extremely long latency period, and as a result it took decades for physicians to make a connection between the many patients who were being diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer and asbestosis and their service in the Navy and other branches of the military. Most of the diagnoses that were being made in the 1970s were those who had been sailors or shipyard workers during the years before and during World War II, though because those ships continued to be used for years after, many of those who served in later years were also exposed, with some only being diagnosed recently. The Naval Sea Systems Command and Naval Ship Systems Command continued using the established materials protocols for ship building through the late 1970s, and only revised their specifications once asbestos’ dangers were clear.
Today, the commercial use of asbestos has been severely curtailed in the United States, and the U.S. military no longer uses the material. Further, there have been extensive regulations put into place regarding inspecting older ships for the presence of asbestos, as well as for how to remove it safely and minimize sailors’ exposure to the dangerous carcinogen. Every ship that was built prior to 1980 is viewed with an acknowledgement that it may be contaminated with asbestos, and ships’ commanders are required to have asbestos response teams at the ready in case of an asbestos emergency.
Lawsuit Against Todd Shipyards
The Todd Shipyard was one of the largest and best known ship builders in the United States during the lead-up to and during World War II. The company not only build ships for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, but also for civilian companies and for the Royal Australian Navy. The company had contracts that went beyond building ships: they were also responsible for the repair and renovation of many vessels, and their level of productivity and efficiency was so high that they were able to completely construct an oil tanker in 4 ½ days. Despite its tremendous success and reputation, the company’s extensive use of asbestos resulted in many employees being sickened with lung cancer, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Hundreds of asbestos lawsuits were filed against the company, and according to a report provided to the Securities and Exchange Commission by the company’s directors, there were 490 asbestos complaints filed against it by 565 plaintiffs. They also faced almost 200 medical claims. The company, which was purchased in 2010 by Vigor Shipyards, had locations in both Los Angeles and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and when employees from both locations continued to file claims against them, the company attempted to defend their use of the deadly material, but lost many of these cases.
Other Naval Shipyards and Air Stations Where Asbestos Was Used
Todd Shipyards was far from the only shipyard where asbestos was used and where workers were sickened as a result of exposure. In some cases the companies that provided the asbestos containing materials were aware of asbestos’ dangers, and in others there was no knowledge of the harm that was being done. Some of the biggest and best known shipyards include:
- ADDSCO Shipyard
- Albina Shipyard
- Bender Shipbuilding
- Bethlehem Steel Shipyard
- Brooklyn Navy Yard
- California Navy Shipyard
- Houston Shipyards
- Ingalls Shipbuilding
- Newport Naval Yard
- Norfolk Naval Shipyard
- Pearl Harbor Naval Yard
- Penn Shipbuilding
- Pensacola Naval Air Stations
- Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
- San Diego Naval Shipyard
- Swan Island Shipyard
- Washington Navy Yard
- Willamette Shipyard
If you or someone you love served in the Navy and has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related disease, you may be entitled to compensation from the asbestos companies. No matter what your mesothelioma stage, this compensation can come from filing a mesothelioma lawsuit or from filing a claim with the $30 billion asbestos trust funds. For more information on your rights and the reimbursement you may be able to receive, contact us today. We will send you a free Financial Compensation Packet, or put you in touch with one of our compassionate and experienced mesothelioma lawyers.