One of the largest steel producers the United States, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, was also one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world. This company was first formed in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with the original name of Saucona Iron Company in the 1850’s. Alfred Hunt, the corporation’s first president, directed the company into producing rails for the ever-growing United States railroad system which was then stretching from coast to coast. They also produced armor plating for vessels owned by the United States Navy.
By the turn of the century, the Bethlehem Steel Company began building and repairing sea vessels for both military and commercial uses. The shipyard in Pennsylvania became renowned for a top level electrical and mechanics department as well as the exceedingly fast turnaround time for even the most major of repairs. It became one of the main facilities that promoted the United States’ dominance in the global market for industrial manufacturing. The company would eventually outgrow its Pennsylvanian facilities and transfer over to Key Highway, Maryland.
There was a downside to this prominent steel manufacturing facility: asbestos exposure. Quite a few of the products that were being manufactured and installed in Maryland contained large amounts of asbestos. This included gaskets, pumps, cement products, piping, turbines, and any other insulated boilers and lining. Due to the extended exposure of workers to asbestos-filled products, the Key Highway Shipyard in Maryland would be the home to one of the first Occupational Disease studies in the world. The Local 24 workers’ union, in conjunction with Mount Sinai Medical Center, would begin their studies on thousands of workers exposed to asbestos filled products.
Exposure to asbestos can lead to a handful of fatal diseases and conditions. Over the course of being exposed to asbestos, the fibrous particles will be accidentally ingested and inhaled. The body cannot naturally break these tough fibers down and they can eventually lead to infection and perhaps even the cancer known as mesothelioma. This cancer attacks the lining of the abdomen, chest, and heart and is almost always fatal to those who contract it.