Located in Houston, Texas, the Brown Shipyard was initially created to handle the high volume of contracts needed to fill the Navy’s needs during World War II. During the war, over 25,000 employees were required to meet the intensive demands of the war effort. At its peak, the facility was able to produce one ship every week. Most of these were destroyer escort vessels that were necessary to protect larger ships during battle. The company later moved onto assault vessels and various other military craft.
After the war concluded, the business was sold in entirety to another Texas based outfit. Over the years the facility closed and reopened with various businesses taking control. The shipyard is thought to have been one of the most important within the Gulf of Mexico region, and continued to play an important part in the commercial maritime industries of the later part of the 20th century.
Until the mid 1970s, one of the most widely used materials besides metal in the construction of large craft was asbestos. It was commonly implemented as a fire retardant on various surfaces, insulation in boiler rooms, and many other uses as well. Since it was widely abundant in the American soil in many regions, it could be easily mined and utilized. Its carcinogenic properties wouldn’t be widely recognized until the 70s, and by that point many shipyard employees had already been exposed to large quantities.
When left alone the material is rather harmless. When employees installed or maintained the asbestos, particles would be released into the air. Once inhaled into the body, the particles are deposited into the protective membranes surrounding the vital organs of the chest and abdomen. After decades of being seemingly benign, issues like mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases can occur. Not everybody who was exposed will develop complications, but those who do are subjected to particularly deadly diseases.
Mesothelioma is very rare, but can be very aggressive in nature. Individuals that are diagnosed often have severely decreased life expectancy. Unfortunately, many of these shipbuilders have an increased risk of developing one of these diseases since they were exposed to large amounts of asbestos. Relating previous exposure to current symptoms is difficult at best, and many shipyard workers weren’t even aware of the substance they were using.