The Brooklyn Navy yard is also known as the United States Navy Yard. It became active in 1806. From 1939 to 1945, the workforce at the shipyard increased to 70,000 workers, many of whom were women who worked as technicians and mechanics in support of the war effort.
However, during these intense years of America’s involvement in WWII, asbestos exposure was common at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and at most naval yards. Protective clothing that was issued to many workers consisted of asbestos-coated leggings, aprons, and gloves. There was an asbestos mixing room where employees mixed asbestos fibers and magnesia for insulation.
In 1966, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was closed down to cut costs, but it was reopened in 1971 by the City of New York.
Asbestos Exposure at the Brooklyn Navy Yard
The pipe shop that was onsite at the shipyard had asbestos in the lagging it made. That cloth was used as insulation around steam and hot water pipes in the vessels that were fixed at the shipyard. The central power plant and boiler shop also had asbestos insulation.
But asbestos was not only limited to workers who made products that contained the dangerous mineral. A personnel needs analysis from 1941 found that 19 trades were involved with the use of asbestos in major projects such as building onto the boiler ship, extending the central power plant, and reconstructing buildings. Some of these projects carried a higher risk than others. People working on boilers and insulation were at especially high risk of asbestos exposure.
A 2017 study that was published in the Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health looked at the risk of mesothelioma among workers at shipyards. The workers who were exposed a moderate level to asbestos were four times as likely to die of mesothelioma. (asbestos.com).
Asbestos was used in all the ships that were built and fixed at the yard. When ships were being built or overhauled at the yard, asbestos-containing equipment including turbines, boilers, pumps, and valves were installed and repaired. The yard also had many shops where equipment containing asbestos was repaired. There is no doubt that thousands of civilian employees and Navy veterans were exposed to asbestos at this yard.
Asbestos Safety Measures at Brooklyn Navy Yard
There were some safety protections used against asbestos at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but is doubtful they were enough to prevent asbestos exposure for many workers. Some wore protective masks, and employees in the pipe shop mixed magnesia and asbestos under a hooded exhaust fan to reduce the inhalation of asbestos fibers. In June 1940, the hooded fan was replaced with a stronger one to draw off the asbestos dust more effectively.
Another safety measure added was the practice of having workers work with their sleeves rolled up and banded so they would not slip down. This was done to keep workers from getting asbestos fibers on their clothes. They also were told to wear protective goggles and wash their exposed skin with water at the jobsite so they would not carry asbestos home with them.
Doctor Recommends Monitoring Worker Health
In 1940, the medical officer who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard wrote a report that had a compilation of medical recommendations regarding the conditions at the facility:
- All asbestos workers should get annual chest x-rays to check for signs of cancer
- Sandblasters should receive semi-annual chest x-rays.
- Industrial x-ray and radium workers should have a complete blood analysis done every other month.
- Spray painters should get an annual physical that included a chest X-ray and blood tests.
However, these recommendations were not enough to prevent people from being hurt by asbestos exposure. Day after day, thousands of workers breathed in and swallowed hazardous asbestos fibers. Once the asbestos is absorbed in the body, it is impossible to get rid of it.
Brooklyn Navy Yard Lawsuits
In November 2004, the New York State Supreme Court upheld a $22 million asbestos cancer verdict for two former Brooklyn Naval Yard workers, whose administrator, acted on their behalf when they died from mesothelioma. (mesothelioma.net)
Both men worked at the shipyard in the 1940s and were exposed to asbestos through John Crane products. John Crane was one of the companies that shipped products containing asbestos to the shipyard and was one company named in the lawsuit.
It seems that the Brooklyn Navy Yard unnecessarily exposed workers and their families to asbestos. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and worked at Brooklyn Navy Yard, it is a good idea to talk to a mesothelioma attorney. He or she can determine if you have a case. It is possible that the companies that produced the asbestos-containing materials that gave you mesothelioma can be found. If so, you could be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses, lost earnings, and pain and suffering.