Founded in 1857, the Bethlehem Steel Company was the first steel company to produce rails for the railroad system in the United States. With time, the Bethlehem Steel Company diversified its company and began working on ships during the early 1900s. In 1913, this shipyard became the largest shipbuilding and ship repair business in the world.
This shipyard played a vital role in World War I and World War II. During this era, the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard manufactured over 1,000 United States Navy ships. No other company had created so many in such a short time. In its glory days, Bethlehem Steel had more than 300,000 employees. About 180,000 of these employees worked directly in the shipyard.
One of the biggest issues with working in shipyards is the high exposure to asbestos that is used in fabricating these ships. Asbestos is used for everything from insulation to fireproofing pipes and electrical conduits. Many materials that are involved in shipbuilding are covered with asbestos. Ship parts such as gaskets, walls, valves, ceilings, flooring, and pipes are coated with asbestos to protect these parts. Over time, asbestos crumbles and becomes a dust-like fiber. However, these materials are broken down by excessive heat or corrosion and can easily become lodged in the lungs of a worker. Many shipyard workers did not have safety masks on when dealing with asbestos. If fibers are inhaled, a worker can develop an asbestos-related disease. The most common of these diseases is mesothelioma.
It is not uncommon for the spouses of these workers to also develop mesothelioma through secondary asbestos exposure. Workers at the Bethlehem Steel Company brought home trace fibers of asbestos on their clothes, hair, and work boots. These traces could be inhaled by family members, leading to the development of mesothelioma.
Detecting mesothelioma may be difficult. Symptoms are similar to those of a cold or a flu and include coughing, wheezing, hoarseness, difficulty breathing, fatigue, chest pain, abdominal pain, or pleural effusion. In addition, symptoms are known for their latency and do not show up for 20 to 50 years after exposure. The detection of mesothelioma in its early stages is the best weapon in dealing with this disease. Detecting mesothelioma in its advanced stages is often difficult to treat and does not produce the same results as early detection.