Bethlehem Sparrows Point Shipyard in Maryland was purchased by Baltimore Marine Industries in 1997. Previously operated by Bethlehem Steel, it was owned by that company since 1916. The facility was a vital component of the military machine during both world wars. Like all other similar shipyards of the time, asbestos was a common material used in ship building. The company itself has been sued, and a judgment was awarded to workers who developed some of the many different asbestos related diseases known to medical science.
The Bethlehem Sparrows Shipyard, managed by BethShip was vying for the many shipyards that were going out of business around 1996. Their goal was to gain contracts for the dismantling of old Navy Ships. They succeeded in securing a contract, and were required within the agreement to find new and better ways of dismantling ships. One of the main stipulations for dismantling of these vessels was the proper handling of the hazardous materials on board, one of them being asbestos. Throughout 1997 and 1999 the company was able to successfully break down 79 navy ships, while building a few new ones as well. In 2003 the business filed for bankruptcy, which endangered their 700 various employees.
During the mid 1900s, the Sparrows Point shipbuilding facility commonly used asbestos for a variety of applications. Employees that covered pipes with the material, maintained the ships and were around the material were unknowingly at risk for developing Mesothelioma. Asbestos slowly accumulates within the cavities of the abdomen and chest after being inhaled. Individuals that worked extensively around pipes and boiler rooms of this era usually did not wear masks or other forms of protection.
Now, many decades later, many employees of this shipyard in Baltimore have either died from or developed an asbestos related disease. Though there are others diseases, Mesothelioma is commonly viewed as the dominant disease related to asbestos exposure. Today, dismantling of older vessels requires handling of the carcinogen, but government rules and regulations dictate every employee be properly protected from inhaling the substance. Modern employees working around asbestos wear masks, body suits and gloves that prevent any contact with the material.
Being able to relate previous encounters with asbestos is essential for medical professionals to quickly diagnose their patients with an asbestos related disease. Since Mesothelioma often has the same symptoms of other illnesses, detection can be extremely difficult.