The General Ship Corporation of Massachusetts was, during its heyday, one of the most prominent shipbuilding facilities in the state of Massachusetts. Operating during both World War I and World War II, the shipyard employed thousands of workers during its history, and specialized in the construction, repair, and restoration of hundreds of watercraft.
The workers at General Ship Corporation shared a camaraderie common among men and women who are drawn together in a common purpose. But they also shared a dangerous risk: exposure to asbestos.
Like other shipyards which were in operation prior to the mid 1970s, General Ship Corporation relied on a wide variety of materials and components which were manufactured to withstand the changes in temperatures and moisture levels that are endemic in the shipping and maritime industry. Materials needed to be water– and corrosion- resistant, as well as insulative and flame-retardant. And they had to be flexible enough to withstand fluctuating temperatures and pressures, but strong, as well.
Asbestos was one of the few materials that suited all of these requirements, and was also easily available and relatively affordable. Because the health risks of the silica-based material were not known until the mid 1970s, manufacturers embraced asbestos as a much needed means to an end, and the material was used in the manufacture of literally thousands of marine products, including boiler components, electrical and heating insulation, valves and valve covers, gaskets, floor and ceiling materials, spray-on insulation and other coatings, turbines, and propulsion system components, as well as many other components used in shipbuilding and repair.
Although the safety risks associated with asbestos were finally exposed in the mind 1970s, many boats and ships which are in operation today still contain materials which were installed prior to that date.
The effects of asbestos can remain undetected for decades. Once inhaled, the tiny fibers lodge in the airway and lungs, where they can cause potentially deadly conditions such as asbestosis and mesothelioma to develop. The earliest symptoms may mimic those of the common cold. Although there is no cure for mesothelioma or asbestosis, any individual who was at any time employed by the General Ship Corporation should see his or her health care professional to be screened for these conditions, as well as any other asbestos-related diseases, as mesothelioma navy cases are most common. Early detection will allow patients to plan out treatments with their doctors, which will help alleviate the symptoms of malignant mesothelioma as much as possible.