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Asbestos Exposures at Consolidated Shipbuilding, Bronx New York

Originally established on the Harlem River, Consolidated Shipbuilding was one of the few shipyards to successfully change with the times. A beneficiary of government contracts throughout World War II, this former yacht building company went on to deliver critical maritime products to the United States’ various military units. Tracing its roots back to the 1800s, Consolidated Shipbuilding, now known as Consolidated Yacht, established itself as one of New York’s premier ship repair businesses at the end of World War II. Located on the waters of Morris Heights in the West Bronx, Consolidated Shipbuilding has been a local fixture for over five decades.

At the height of World War II, Consolidated Shipbuilding was mass-producing anti-submarine ships, lightweight craft, torpedo boats, patrol boats and tugboats. Its customers, including the Army and Navy, recognized the unique similarities between Consolidated’s yachts and the lightweight craft that the military desperately needed. Over 3,000 employees were tasked with fabricating, assembling and delivering ready-to-go vessels. From fabrication to delivery, Consolidated’s employees handled every aspect of this government shipbuilding.

With World War II wrapping up, Consolidated Shipbuilding made its move. Purchasing the shipyard operations of Jacob & Company, Consolidated ceased operations on the Harlem River and relocated to the Bronx. There, a major emphasis was placed on ship repair. With additional and expanded docks, Consolidated forged ahead with two business interests, ship overhaul and continued yacht building. Overhauling engines and propulsion equipment, Consolidated became an international destination for vessels embarking on or returning from international travel.

Skilled tradespeople involved in shipbuilding and ship repair operations were regularly exposed to airborne dust. Consolidated Shipbuilding employed various trades, including electricians, sheet metal workers, carpenters, plumbers, lathers, and laborers. These employees were tasked with repairing vessels for international trips. Overhaul work included repairs to ship engines, braking systems, boilers, valves, and pumps. Spread out at Consolidated’s shipyard was various machine shops, repair shops and fabrication shops. Here, employees disassembled and repaired removable equipment, much of which contained asbestos components.

The overhaul work performed at these workshops involved frequent use of asbestos. The pumps that moved water, oil and other fluids were removed and repaired. Workers cut through external insulation from the pumps, disassembled them, and removed worn asbestos gaskets and packing. After the material was meticulously scraped out, new gaskets and packing was installed. Valves were cleaned, which included tearing worn asbestos packing from the valve stems, and cutting new asbestos for fresh fittings. Repaired equipment was reinsulated with asbestos insulation and pipe covering was reapplied to high-heat piping.

Many of the skilled tradespeople who engaged in ship repair operations at Consolidated Shipbuilding were exposed to vast amounts of asbestos. Between the 1940s and 1980s, much of the equipment used on maritime vessels contained numerous pieces of asbestos equipment. Although scientific research began developing links between exposure to dust and lung disease as early as the 1930s, many of the companies whose products were installed and repaired at Consolidated Shipbuilding hid this information from workers. At the time, asbestos was a cheap and abundant product, enticing many corporations to choose profits and low costs over the health and safety of shipyard workers.

Studies performed by professionals that recreated the ordinary use of asbestos gaskets and packing by tradespeople in laboratory settings have revealed that the manipulation of these products released immense amounts of airborne dust in and around the immediate work area of the products. With poor ventilation, and no means for the dust to escape, workers constantly breathed in asbestos fibers. Overhaul work on classic ship products like pumps, valves and engines all involved the use of asbestos gaskets and packing. Without warnings or proper precautions, workers tore this material apart, exposing their lungs to dangerous fibers.

If you or a loved one worked at Consolidated Shipbuilding or any other shipyard and have developed an asbestos-related disease, please call today for a free consultation. For several decades, our firm has proudly represented the families of individuals who worked in shipbuilding and ship repair settings. Our attorneys and investigators will assist your family in identifying the unique asbestos exposures suffered at these facilities.

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