During the military conflicts of the twentieth century, the building of massive ships was extremely important in the United States. To meet this great demand, the General Ship Corporation was a leader in the ship industry in Massachusetts for many decades. During both World Wars, thousands of employees worked in the constructing of these vessels at this shipyard alone.
Asbestos was a chief building material used in the majority of these ships, including those manufactured at the General Ship Corporation. However, during the shipyard’s heaviest production, it was unknown that this material is very toxic. Thousands of employees were exposed to large amounts of this deadly chemical on a daily basis. Because these dangers were unknown, asbestos continued to be one of the staples in building materials used at the General Ship Corporation up to the 1980s.
Asbestos was used as a fire retardant and insulator. It was also used because of its resistance to corrosion and high temperatures. It was commonly used in the walls, flooring and ceilings of the ship because of these insulation abilities. The piping, boiler room, gaskets and valves also were made with asbestos as a common component, as well as the electrical and plumbing installations.
Unfortunately for these employees, as asbestos is manipulated, a fibrous dust is released. This extremely harmful dust was no doubt inhaled by shipyard workers at the General Ship Corporation day after day. Furthermore, working conditions were almost always cramped in the ships, making it nearly impossible to avoid breathing in the asbestos dust that collected in these spaces. Although this material is not currently used in new ships due to modern government regulations, many General Ship Corporation employees have been exposed to asbestos in recent years while repairing or performing maintenance on older ships.
Despite its value as an insulator on ships, the tragic consequences that followed justify its later ban. Asbestos dust enters the lining of the internal organs, in time producing a devastating cancer that targets many former shipyard workers. This dangerous form of asbestos cancer is known to develop in the lungs, heart, and abdomen. Many who are diagnosed with mesothelioma never suspect that they have anything wrong with them until symptoms finally appear, leading to the poor prognosis of this disease.