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Asbestos Exposures at Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock – Kearny, New Jersey

Some would say that the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in Kearny, New Jersey was the country’s most effective shipbuilder during World War II. This assertion is made with good reason. During World War II, employees of Kearny’s Federal Shipbuilding churned out naval ships faster than any other shipbuilding company. In fact, on one particular day, four new warships were launched in less than an hour. Located on the Hackensack River, Federal Shipbuilding once employed thousands of skilled tradespeople from New Jersey and New York. After World War II ended, the Navy purchased the shipyard, and carried out heavy salvaging activities through to the late-1970s.

Employees of Federal Shipbuilding produced some of America’s greatest ships, including destroyers, landing craft, and destroyer escorts. Working around-the-clock, crews of thousands of employees spread across 17 acres were involved in every aspect of ship production. Skilled tradespeople, including pipefitters, plumbers, lathers, sheet metal workers, carpenters and laborers fabricated, assembled and installed the metals and products that would form a finished ship. For some, this work involved assembling and installing machinery in the engine and boiler rooms. Working in cramped and poorly ventilated spaces, crews of Federal Shipbuilding employees and independent contractors installed and insulated propulsion and heating equipment throughout the ships.

In the years following World War II, with Federal Shipyard’s land sold to the United States Navy, operations at the Federal Shipbuilding worksite transitioned to ship salvaging. Here, large crews of employees engaged in a process of determining whether to salvage or scrap retired naval vessels. Salvaging operations at the Federal Shipyard had two goals. First, employees would have to determine if a ship should be deemed seaworthy, and money invested in overhauls. Second, if a ship was not deemed worthy of substantial investment, crews would salvage whatever working machinery was available, for use elsewhere by the government. Scrapping operations, on the other hand, removed all usable equipment, and broke down the ship as much as possible.

Employees who were involved in shipbuilding activities at Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock, as well as individuals involved in salvage/scrapping operations, were exposed to vast amounts of asbestos. Between the 1940s and 1980s, many of the products installed in the engine and boiler rooms of naval vessels contained numerous pieces of equipment. Much of this equipment was also heavily insulated with asbestos insulation to protect sailors from burns. Employees involved in these ship activities worked with and around numerous pieces of equipment, including boilers, turbines, pumps, valves, air compressors and oil coolers.

Whether installing the machinery at the time of building or removing the machinery during a salvage operation, working with and around asbestos material was inevitable. Available documentation of a major pump manufacturer reveals that gaskets were installed at the shipyard upon product delivery, to protect the gasket from breaking during transit. Asbestos lagging, asbestos gaskets, asbestos rope and asbestos insulation were added after the machinery had been installed. Similarly, during salvage and scrapping operations, employees disassembling the engine and boiler rooms had to cut apart heavy asbestos insulation to inspect the seaworthiness of the various pieces of equipment. During these operations, workers were exposed to asbestos fiber from gaskets, packing, and insulation.

Between the 1940s and 1980s, activities at Kearny’s Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock worksite exposed thousands of skilled tradespeople to asbestos. For decades, the attorneys at Levy Konigsberg have represented numerous families of individuals who were involved in shipbuilding and shipyard work. If you or a loved one worked at the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock yard or another shipyard and have developed an asbestos-related disease, including mesothelioma or asbestos lung cancer, please call today for a free consultation.


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