Located in San Diego, the Southwest Marine Shipyard has been in operation since the 1980s. The facility has been used for repairing various ships, as well as dismantling them. Previously, the operation had been owned by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. A large portion of the building area now is unused, while the other portions consist of World War II-era buildings that are still in use.
This particular shipyard was transformed to produce military crafts during the 1940s. Originally they set up operations that would include both the production and repair of military vessels. The amount of work secured by the Southwest Marine Shipyard was impressive, even in comparison to other facilities of the time. While in their prime, the company was able to repair and service two large ships in just one day’s time. However, as the steel industry began to decline, so did the earnings for the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. This led them to sell the business in the 1980s. The new owners put their efforts solely into repairing vessels.
It is believed that many of the workers of the Steel Corporation are at risk of developing mesothelioma, while many of them may still being employed by the company. Though asbestos became restricted heavily in the mid 1970s, workers often repaired ships that were previously outfitted with the carcinogen. Asbestos was used because it was cheap and an effective part of constructing quality boats. Both workers who installed and maintained any of these ships likely inhaled large amounts of the dangerous material. In addition, the older facilities also pose an asbestos risk, as the material found heavy use in building construction as well.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that originates in the membranes of the abdominal and chest region. The lungs are the most commonly impacted organ, but the cancer can spread to other parts of the body as well. Taking decades to manifest, many employees have long forgotten about their exposure. The inability to connect prior asbestos exposure to current illnesses is suspected to have led many victims to seek no treatment because they were unaware of their disease and it was only diagnosed at a point where the cancer had metastasized. While we are well aware of the dangers posed by the carcinogen today, workers were unaware of the likely dangers they faced. Informing a physician of previous encounters is an essential step for receiving treatment at an early stage, which many of these employees failed to do.