Fulton Shipyard operated from 1918 to 1999, producing many vessels for the US Navy, including the minesweepers USS Constant, USS Conflict, USS Waxbill and USS Industry. Although the shipyard is no longer in use, the site is currently home to a popular boat ramp and restaurant, as well as several wrecked ships. The area immediately adjacent to the shipyard was set aside in 1980 as the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge.
Prior to the late 1970s, asbestos was common in many trades because of its heat and fire resistance, strength, and affordability. In the ship building industry, asbestos was particularly common in felt covering used to insulate pipes. This covering was often made of amosite, a variety of asbestos mined in the Transvaal Province of South Africa. Amosite is a highly friable form of asbestos, meaning it crumbles easily, releasing airborne particles which can then be inhaled by workers. Due to its friable nature, amosite (commonly known as “brown” or “gray” asbestos) is considered one of the most dangerous forms of asbestos exposure. Sailors kept in tight quarters with limited ventilation were often exposed to these fibers, as were the ship builders who installed the insulation without safety equipment. Airborne asbestos was also generated by depth charges used to test the structural integrity of minesweepers, such as those manufactured at Fulton Shipyard.
During the WWII years, asbestos use averaged 738 million pounds annually. By the height of the Cold War era, asbestos use would eventually rise to as much as 1400 million pounds per year. The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates the proportional mortality rate for asbestos-related disease of former shipyard workers such as those employed at Fulton Shipyard at 16 times that of other occupations. A survey of soil and groundwater at the neighboring wildlife refuge found no detectible remaining levels of asbestos in most areas, but did find naturally occurring chrysotile asbestos 20 feet below the surface at two tested locations.
Some of the risks of asbestos exposure were understood as early as the 1930s; however ship building and other construction trades continued to make extensive use of the substance until the late 1970s. The understood dangers of asbestos were not always properly managed, leaving ship builders, sailors and other workers at unnecessary risk of harm. If you or a loved one worked at the Fulton or another shipyard and went on to develop an asbestos-related illness, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.