Call us today, phones answered 24/7
Call us today, phones answered 24/7

Asbestos Exposure at Swan Island Shipyard

The use of asbestos at Swan Island Shipyard began during World War II and continued until at least the 1980s. It was used liberally in numerous ship components in every ship, resulting in heavy asbestos exposure for shipbuilders and shipyard workers. Even after the U.S. banned many uses of asbestos, workers at Swan Island Shipyard continued to experience asbestos exposure when repairing or dismantling ships built during this era. 

Shipyards are notorious as significant sources of occupational asbestos exposure, which is the primary cause of mesothelioma and other deadly diseases that develop later in life. Swan Island Shipyard workers who develop these illnesses may be able to recover substantial compensation with the help of an experienced mesothelioma lawyer in Oregon.

About Swan Island Shipyard

Swan Island Shipyard was an emergency shipyard built by Henry Kaiser at the request of the United States government. The company was known as the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation. Swan Island Shipyard was built with eight boat slips. From 1942 to 1945, it produced 147 T-2 tankers, also known as navy oilers. 

These ships transported crude oil products such as gasoline and diesel overseas to fuel war equipment. These oilers, originally known as liberty ships, could be built in approximately 70 days. Later models, known as victory ships, were built with improved speed and durability. Swan Island was so efficient that it was known as the liberty and victory ship capital of the world. 

After the war, the Port of Portland purchased Swan Island Shipyard and made it the port’s operations hub, which included a dry dock and ship repair facilities. It is centrally located in Portland’s harbor. 

In 1999, the Port of Portland sold the shipyard to Cascade General Inc., now known as Vigor Industrial. Today, it is a 60-acre shipyard that builds and repairs ships.

What Happened to the Liberty and Victory Ships?

Most ships built during the war were scrapped during the 1960s, but a few remained in commission much longer. The S/S Chalmette was not scrapped until 2002, and the S/S Colorado was scrapped in 2000.  

How Were Workers Exposed to Asbestos at Swan Island Shipyard?

Asbestos exposure occurs when asbestos is disturbed, and the microscopic fibers become airborne. Asbestos may be disturbed when asbestos-containing materials are cut, ripped out, mixed, damaged or cleaned up. Asbestos exposure in shipyards like Swan Island occurs during ship construction and repair. Asbestos could be found in the following components: 

  • Pipe insulation 
  • Boiler insulation 
  • Electrical wiring 
  • Engine gaskets 
  • Bulkhead panels 
  • Wallboard 
  • Adhesives 
  • Decking 
  • Flooring 
  • Machinery casings 
  • Lagging 
  • Asbestos cement 

The liberty ships at Swan Island used steam engines, while the victory ships used turbines. Asbestos was heavily used in block insulation and steam pipe insulation to insulate against fire and prevent heat loss. Asbestos insulation was also used in the tanks that stored combustible liquids like gasoline due to the high risk of fires and explosions.

Swan Island Shipyard Occupations with the Highest Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos fibers can quickly spread through a ship’s engineering spaces, exposing workers in all areas, even bystanders who had no contact with the asbestos materials. Asbestos fibers can become airborne through sweeping and cleanup, which often involves “blow down” with compressed air. It can penetrate most filters in forced air systems and cling to clothing. Exposed workers carried it on their clothing throughout the shipyard, into office areas, and even to their homes.  

The workers with the most direct contact with asbestos-containing materials have the highest asbestos-exposure risks. These include the following: 

  • Welders 
  • Carpenters 
  • Electricians 
  • Boilermakers 
  • Pipefitters 
  • Structural fabricators and fitters 
  • Plumbers 
  • Draftsmen 
  • Machinists  
  • Inspectors 
  • Engineers 

Did the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation Know Asbestos Was Dangerous?

By the late 1940s, most large businesses were aware of at least the possibility of asbestos being dangerous. However, there is no record that the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation made an effort to warn workers or provide personal protective equipment before the 1970s when asbestos was regulated by federal and state health authorities. 

Are Swan Island Shipyard Workers Still Exposed to Asbestos Today?

Asbestos exposure in shipyards is less common today, but shipyard workers can still be exposed while working on older ships built with asbestos.  

Even without continued exposure, former workers at Swan Island Shipyard face continued risk of developing deadly asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis, malignant mesothelioma, and other types of cancer, especially lung cancer. The mesothelioma latency period can be as long as 60 years, and other cancers and asbestosis can also develop decades after exposure.

What Should I Do If I Was Exposed to Asbestos at Swan Island Shipyard

Not everyone exposed to asbestos develops a deadly illness. However, you should inform your doctor about your asbestos exposure to ensure your doctor knows to suspect mesothelioma if it does occur. Your doctor may also recommend annual screenings for early detection. 

Although learning you have been exposed to asbestos can be upsetting, there are no grounds for an asbestos exposure lawsuit until after you have developed an illness. If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness, you may qualify for substantial compensation through one or more of the following: 

  • A mesothelioma lawsuit 
  • An asbestos trust fund claim 
  • A workers’ compensation claim 

If you or your loved one has contracted mesothelioma after working at Swan Island Shipyard, contact us now for a free consultation. 

Contact The Firm

Representing asbestos and mesothelioma clients throughout the Northwest.

1355 NW Everett St.
Suite 100
Portland, OR 97204

Scroll to Top