Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation was the owner of 15 shipyards during WWII. It was considered to be one of the biggest shipbuilders, along with Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock, and New York Shipbuilding Corporation. At the peak of WWII, Bethlehem Shipbuilding was the most profitable shipyard in the United States.
Bethlehem Steel Shipyard started with shipyards in Quincy, Massachusetts, Sparrows Point, Maryland; and Staten Island, New York. (Asbestos.com).
Shipbuilders at Bethlehem Steel Shipyard knew the company names Pittsburgh Corning, Johns-Manville, Ruberoid, and Armstrong because these firms were manufacturers that made asbestos-containing products that were used to make Navy warships. But the use of asbestos was not just in shipbuilding; asbestos was used in pipe insulation, block, and cement was used in all areas of the shipyards.
Exposure to these asbestos-containing products led many shipyard workers to get mesothelioma and asbestosis later in life. A 2017 article released in the Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health stated that shipyard employees with a history of asbestos exposure at a moderate level were four times as likely to die of mesothelioma.
Many Uses For Dangerous Asbestos at Bethlehem Steel Shipyard
A tour of a Bethlehem Shipyard would show just how many ways asbestos was used. For example, Raybestos cloth was stored and given out in the yard storeroom. There were large rolls of asbestos fabric and insulation wrapping that were cut to order depending on what the worker needed. This process would release billions of fibers into the air, constantly exposing nearby workers to dangerous asbestos dust.
Employees in the Y department were responsible for cleaning up asbestos materials, such as blankets that were left by other workers. Rigging department workers such as burners and welders used asbestos blankets daily to protect themselves from heat. Ship fitters always had pieces of asbestos cloth to kneel on when they were working on hot steel decks. There also were welders and burners who worked at the shipyard who were using asbestos fabrics and asbestos gaskets.
Shipyard workers in the boiler room, engine room, and pump room often tore off and replaced asbestos cloth. In many cases they were using their bare hands, causing untold numbers of asbestos fibers to be blown into the air, most invisible to the naked eye. The use of asbestos cloth was a way of life at Bethlehem Shipyards. Some workers even used it to patch work clothes that were torn.
Also, Bethlehem shipyards used outside contractors who supplied and installed materials full of asbestos. One supplier was McCormick Asbestos Company that both sold the product and sent its employees to put in asbestos-containing block, cement, and insulation.
More Dangerous Asbestos Products at Bethlehem Steel Shipyard
Workers at many Bethlehem shipyards were exposed to asbestos every day. Boiler room and engine room workers were around equipment and machinery that contained asbestos-containing products. Welders worked around gaskets and other products coated and filled with asbestos.
During WWII, the Staten Island Yard expanded with $6 million offered by the US Navy. It gained the ability to build vessels as long as 516 feet. It was also able to do repairs on larger vessels. It added thousands of personnel from the Staten Island area and beyond. There were up to 12,000 shipyard workers helping to build ships at this particular shipyard.
There were thousands of sheet metal workers, welders, painters, electricians, pipefitters, machinists and more. Of course, asbestos was used throughout the ships built at the Staten Island Shipyard. When ships were overhauled here, asbestos-containing equipment such as pumps, valves, boilers and turbines were repaired or installed.
Poor Safety Standards At Bethlehem Steel Shipyard
‘The Minimum Requirements for Safety and Industrial Health in Contract Shipyards’ was a set of guidelines published in the early 1940s by the Secretary of the Navy. The booklet had requirements that featured a letter from the official explaining the need for compliance with the safety guidelines. The booklet was sent to every shipyard that worked with the Navy.
The booklet had standards to use asbestos safely and included when respirators and ventilation equipment must be used, compliance work at Bethlehem Shipyards showed there were no changes in the handling of asbestos from the attempt by the Navy to crack down on safety standards.
The Bethlehem Steel Shipyard unnecessarily exposed workers and their families to asbestos and many other hazardous materials. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and worked at one of the Bethlehem Steel Shipyards, it is recommended to talk to a mesothelioma compensation attorney about asbestos trust funds. It could take up to 40 or even 50 years for your asbestos exposure to lead to mesothelioma. You may be able to get compensation from one of the companies that sold asbestos-containing products to the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard.