Asbestos in Shipyards

Unexpectedly, shipyard workers have been one of the most at-risk groups for asbestos exposure throughout history. During wars such as WWII, shipyard workers increased their risks of developing illnesses related to asbestos such as mesothelioma or lung diseases.

Why was asbestos utilized so heavily in shipyards? 

This is largely due to its heat and corrosion resistance, which was ideal for shipbuilding. It was an abundant material that could withstand environmental factors and remain durable and sturdy and to insulate many different elements of the ship itself that could risk overheating or corroding over time. The issue with the ship itself using asbestos came largely from the close quarters that builders were expected to work in. Dust from asbestos projects built up in these areas that were tight and not well ventilated, leading to inhalation of particles 

Uses for asbestos increased in popularity, which meant that only after it had already become a widespread material did experts begin to realize its poisonous nature. For much of the early twentieth century, even with emerging research, the government and many companies ignored the risks and continued using this inexpensive and abundant material despite the risks involved. It wasn’t until mid-way through the twentieth century that people began taking the threat more seriously. 

Exposure to asbestos over time was creating such widespread health issues that it became impossible to ignore and thus the government was forced to step in. The work of removing asbestos from ships became an important task but has to this day yet to be entirely completed. 

Shipyard workers even with mild to moderate exposure were found to suffer similar rates of mesothelioma as those who worked with it regularly. 

How Many U.S Workers Were Exposed? 

WWII was a time that was rife with the need for shipyard workers as nearly half a million people were needed to keep up with the workload the war had provided. It was common for these teams of shipyard workers to have asbestos insulators on staff as well as other occupations that came with high-levels of asbestos exposure. 

The number of shipyard workers dwindled from the millions to a couple hundred thousand after the war had ended.

The need for shipyard workers has lessened over time, but the impact of the exposure to asbestos during this period remains. 

The U.S Navy especially needed shipyard workers during WWII for asbestos to be utilized for submarine construction. Two different types of asbestos were used for this task, chrysotile, and amosite both played important roles in insulating different parts of the ships. The need for asbestos increased dramatically in the thirties and by the end of them, asbestos was classified as an incredibly important material and was amassed for usage across the U.S in droves. 

California Shipyards

California was considered the leading state in asbestos usage for shipbuilding. With California having abundant deposits of natural asbestos, it was common for it to be used in the construction of ships. This led to it being classified as the highest-ranking state in mesothelioma and asbestos-related deaths. 

New York Shipyards

The NY shipyards were in production for 165 years, producing ships that have gone down in history. These decades upon decades of asbestos exposure have taken a toll on the workers who were employed by this shipyard, leading to an abundance of illness. Those who worked on many different parts of these vessels have been exposed to asbestos over time. 

Washington Shipyards

During WWII the Washington shipyards were booming with activity. It was considered the largest of the shipyards in the West, which made them a hotbed for asbestos exposure. The officials in the Washington shipyards were warned of the exposure risk early in the 40s, but little was done to curb the usage of the material. 

Oregon Shipyards

These shipyards were vital to reviving the economy of Portland and were an important player in building and maintaining ships for WWII. Though they were good for the war effort and the economy, it came with the hefty price tag of rampant asbestos exposure for workers involved in the shipbuilding efforts. 

Company-Owned Shipyards

Several shipyards were established and operated by singular companies but spanned multiple states. Todd Shipyards and Kaiser Shipbuilding Company were two of the most prominent and widespread multi-state shipyards. These collections of shipyards were owned and regulated by these companies, but even then were not always regulated to their fullest extent. 

Being owned by a company instead of individually, made it easier for them to ignore the risks of exposure and cause issues for their employees for the sake of not having to sacrifice productivity and profits. 

Navy Blamed for Increased Exposure to Asbestos

The Navy was blamed for the major increase in asbestos exposure issues that surfaced after WWII.

A prominent shipbuilding company dodged blame for exposing their workers to asbestos by pinning their problems on the Navy. They stated that the Navy not only supplied the asbestos to the company but was also negligent and exposed workers with the knowledge that asbestos was a risk to them. 

The company blaming the Navy cited that they were tasked with supplying materials and products that contained asbestos to the Navy to keep their ships in top shape for the war effort. They stated they were not aware of the asbestos levels were reaching dangerous heights in shipyards. 

They hoped to bring the lawsuit to the government and sue for excessive damages that were caused by the abundance of asbestos litigation being brought forth to their company. Close to forty billion was being pursued in damages from said company, from workers who had been unknowingly exposed. 

While they were at-fault for the majority of their asbestos-related lawsuits, they did manage to find evidence that the Navy was putting people at risk by using more asbestos insulation. This study also proved that the Navy was not following the necessary guidelines to protect its workers. 

Navy Accused of Knowingly Exposing Workers

It was stated that the Navy had prior knowledge of asbestos being a risk for workers when they contracted certain companies to aid in shipbuilding.

The shipyard workers for this company then sought litigation against the company itself for the multitude of injuries and the demise of many a worker due to asbestos exposure in these shipyards. 

The company disagreed that they should be held responsible for the exposure, as the conditions presented in these shipyards were what caused the problems with their workers. They argued that the dust leftover from cutting projects had been collecting over time and not cleaned, leaving the particles exposed and ready to be breathed in by workers. 

These claims were only furthered by other suits brought forth that the navy was not passing inspections in their shipyards and that there were high levels of asbestos that weren’t being reported. 

Veteran Aid for Asbestos Illnesses

The Navy was highly negligent in keeping workers and veterans safe from the asbestos exposure aboard their vessels.

Many veterans had to seek out compensation and aid from the VA to keep themselves afloat after exposure led to illness and disability for many of them. Any veteran who did not have a dishonorable discharge from their post can seek aid from the government to help with their treatment and loss of wages.

To receive those benefits, documentation must be provided to prove that there was exposure and that their illness is concerning asbestos. It can be incredibly difficult to provide the documentation of when and where exposure occurred, but the right lawyer in your corner can make a world of difference for those Veterans who are struggling to get what they need. Mesothelioma attorneys who deal with cases like this all the time will be able to help get that proof and documentation that you need. 

It is important to seek out a lawyer that had handled these sort of cases before. They not only know how to negotiate your case, but they have the kind of resources to be able to research and get you the kind of settlement you’re looking for. 

Navy Veterans Asbestos Lawsuits

Even though Navy veterans can’t file litigation against the government, they can file a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the products they come in contact with.

Many Naval veterans and shipyard workers were exposed to asbestos and are now suffering from diseases related to it.

These companies who supplied the asbestos are now facing litigation for their negligence. 

In 1981, Virginia’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of shipyard workers who had been exposed to asbestos in their work environments that their lawsuits could be filed years before the disease has manifested. This was a huge victory as mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses take upwards of a decade to manifest. They argued that workers shouldn’t have to wait until their illnesses have taken root due to asbestos exposure, but that the exposure in the first place was due entirely to negligence on behalf of the companies in question. 

Shipbuilding during WWII also caused a significant rise in asbestos exposure and the malignancies that come along with that. Asbestos was considered a critical material for submarine construction, shipbuilding, and other construction and manufacturing needs in the late 30s. The tons of asbestos needed and utilized exceeded ten billion in the United States alone. 

The United States especially was a hotbed of both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma in the fifties and early sixties. The durability and resistance of asbestos fibers were highly sought after for insulation and to protect workers from high heat. It was also incredibly easy and cheap to access as it is naturally occurring so it was the ideal material for insulating boilers, pipes, and protective gear. It got worse as the older ships and their parts were recycled to make newer ships, disturbing and damaging the asbestos so the fibers were released into the air. 

What Else?

Regulations have been put in place to help with preventing asbestos exposure.

The EPA and OSHA have done evaluations and inspections of sites where asbestos was commonly used and have either put in place official regulations for asbestos use or have put in protections for workers. Asbestos is not as commonly used these days, and as shipbuilding has slowed down as a necessary thing since travel has evolved, those who were exposed in the past are now showing signs of illness but exposure has slowed down in the past few years. 

If you are a veteran or former shipyard worker and have found yourself showing signs of an asbestos-related illness like mesothelioma or lung disease, you may be entitled to compensation. It is important if you are a veteran that you explore your options through the VA programs and see what can be done to get you the aid or representation you need. If you are a former shipyard worker who was exposed to asbestos during their time working, you may be able to seek litigation against the companies that were responsible for your exposure. 

Asbestos was so prominently used that litigation is incredibly common and some lawyers have dedicated the entirety of their practices to taking on these sorts of cases. They have the resources at their disposal to help veterans and former shipyard workers seek adequate compensation for their damages. 

Veterans may also find themselves prone to exposure even after active service, finding jobs in similar fields doing construction, working in factory settings, and other environments where asbestos is rampant. While they cannot directly seek litigation against the government, they may have options for treatment through the government if exposure happened while in active duty or they still have active benefits. Workers may be able to seek out litigation against the companies who they either worked for or who supplied the asbestos products to their base or their workplace. 

Because asbestos takes so long to start wreaking havoc on your system, it is important to get regular checkups to ensure that any symptoms you might be noticing can be caught early. 

Asbestos in Shipyards