Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi was one of the region’s largest Navy ship builders during World War II. Even after the war, work was plentiful at Ingalls. The company received a significant military contract in 1957 to build nuclear submarines for the U.S. Navy. In the 1970’s, the company employed approximately 25,000 people who built destroyers. People have routinely relocated from surrounding states to find work at the Pascagoula location, now known as Huntington Ingalls Industries. Ingalls is still one of the area’s biggest private employers today with around 10,000 employees.
By the early 1990’s, more than 3,000 of the shipyard’s former workers had sued Ingalls over illnesses and deaths related to asbestos exposure. Like other profitable Navy shipbuilders, Ingalls negligently exposed thousands of employees to carcinogens that caused lung problems, deadly cancer, and mesothelioma. In the lawsuits several decades ago, some workers were not able to prove that their ailments were caused directly by the work they did because not enough scientific studies had been conducted about these illnesses. Others who sued received substantial settlements or verdicts at trial, in part because Ingalls Shipbuilding admitted to liability in many cases. Current scientific research has shown that there is no safe level of asbestos-related exposure, which is why this type of insulation material is no longer recklessly used the way it was decades ago.
Even during the 1940’s, the Environmental Protection Agency was aware that working with such potentially deadly toxins was unsafe. The military was informed that safety procedures should be implemented for people who worked at ship building facilities like Ingalls. In some facilities, safety measures were put into place such as requiring better ventilation and less skin exposure. But these practices, when implemented at all, were insufficient to prevent potentially deadly diseases.
At Ingalls, the company acknowledged the asbestosis-related risks, which made the shipyard a target for litigation against them by victims and surviving family members. Because it can take decades for someone to develop mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos, more people are being diagnosed every day as a result of working in these conditions.
Family members of workers have been likewise affected, because secondhand exposure to toxic fibers and dust is also dangerous. Since employees had no idea they were bringing carcinogenic materials home on their clothing and bodies, their households were often contaminated. Children and wives were especially vulnerable, and many became sick over the years because of the toxins brought home by their family members who worked in the shipyards.