During World War II, the United States Navy made a concerted effort to increase the number of ships in its fleet. Many new ship yards were built all over the country to further this enormous undertaking. Bath Iron Works, already an established ship yard, was also used in this effort. Bath Iron Works, located in Maine on the Kennebec River, has been building ships since the 1880’s. The Navy, therefore, put this ship yard’s expertise to work.
Bath Iron Works was one of the most active ship yards; between 1940 and 1945 it produced more than 82 destroyers. That’s more ships than the Japanese built during the entire war. A common slogan for the company during that time was “Bath-built is best-built.” It continues to be an active ship yard today. While it has changed hands several times during its more than 100 year history, it still builds military ships as well as commercial ships and yachts.
One of the side effects of working in such an active ship yard is the possible exposure to asbestos, a fine, nearly invisible mineral hair-like substance, and the mesothelioma that can occur as a result of exposure. Asbestos is used for its fire and heat resistance ability. It’s recommended that ship yard employees be checked regularly for such exposure. It’s important that current employees take appropriate safety precautions to eliminate any risk of exposure.
The danger also applies to family members who have contact with ship yard workers. Former workers and their families may be at particular risk since current safety standards were not in place during the active ship building days of World War II. Asbestos can cling to clothing, hair and skin allowing the material to be brought easily into contact with others.
As mentioned earlier, Bath Iron Works is still a very active ship yard. The company has come a long way since its initial days as an iron foundry. The current owner since 1995, General Dynamics, has expanded the company substantially and created state-of-the-art facilities. In 1998, it broke ground on the Land Level Transfer Facility and in 2002 delivered its first guided missile destroyer ship to the Navy from this new facility. It continues to build some of the world’s most advanced ships for the military including a new class of destroyers. It has won new military contracts that are underway with delivery of new guided missile ships expected in the next few years.