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Isaac Rice founded General Dynamics Electric Boat in 1899. Throughout the wars of the 20th century, the United States Navy contracted Electric Boat to build defense vessels. From approximately the 1950s to the 1970s, Electric Boat used asbestos products in the construction of its submarines.

General Dynamics Electric Boat has stated it frequently used asbestos. Electric Boat submarines were built to withstand extreme conditions, and asbestos was included for its heat- and pressure-resistant qualities. However, this asbestos use exposed workers to the dangerous mineral. As a result, employees continue to file claims against Electric Boat related to their asbestos exposure. Despite these claims and resulting litigation costs, the company remains operational today.


01. History of Asbestos Use

General Dynamics Electric Boat History of Asbestos Use

Quick Facts
  • Years in Operation: 1899 – present
  • Location: Groton, Connecticut
  • Production: Submarines
  • Asbestos Trust: No

In 1899, General Dynamics Electric Boat was established by Isaac Rice as the Electric Boat Company. Rice, a businessman and investor, formed the company to help finance the construction of a 54-foot submarine called The Holland.

This vessel was developed by New Jersey-based engineer and inventor, John Philip Holland. In 1900, the U.S. Navy accepted The Holland, which resulted in the start of the U.S. Submarine Force.

In 1911, Electric Boat acquired the New London Ship and Engine Company in Groton, Connecticut to meet engine and ship building demand from the Navy. The Groton Shipyard would become Electric Boat’s operational headquarters, as well as one of its most dangerous asbestos sites.

In support of the World Wars, Electric Boat built 722 submarine chasers, 398 PT boats, 159 submarines and 118 Liberty ships for the Navy.

The Navy ordered submarines and other vessels from Electric Boat for World War I and World War II. After WWII, Electric Boat focused on building new submarines. Records indicate the company began using asbestos around 1950 to provide its vessels with heat-resistant insulation.

In 1951, the Navy contracted the company to build the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, known as the USS Nautilus. General Dynamics acquired Electric Boat the following year. The company name then changed to General Dynamics Electric Boat.

After the acquisition, the company continued to use asbestos in its submarines. A health hazard report conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) confirmed Electric Boat workers were exposed to airborne asbestos between 1950 and 1979. Electric Boat primarily used asbestos fibers within its vessels. However, some evidence shows the company also used asbestos gloves from the 1950s into the 1990s.

Electric Boat expanded during its period of asbestos use, setting records for swift sea travel and developing new submarines. The company’s military partnership remained steady and operations in Connecticut and Rhode Island grew.

During this expansion, Electric Boat began monitoring its asbestos use. According to records, the company started conducting asbestos insulation dust surveys in 1968 to monitor facility air quality. Early copies were lost or destroyed, but Electric Boat has kept records of air monitoring studies since 1971 or 1972.

However, Electric Boat’s monitoring practices did not prevent employees from experiencing asbestos exposure. In the mid-1970s, employees began to file asbestos personal injury claims against the company.

These claims did not inhibit Electric Boat’s growth or military contracts. The Navy continued to commission faster, quieter and more advanced submarines from the company. These contracts totaled billions of dollars.

Despite ongoing litigation today, the company is still operational and continues to have a strong relationship with the Navy.

02. Asbestos Products

General Dynamics Electric Boat Asbestos Products

General Dynamics Electric Boat used asbestos-containing products in boat and submarine construction. Electric Boat did not manufacture these products, but sourced them from other asbestos companies. The asbestos products were used to resist heat, fire and pressure.

Most commonly, Electric Boat used asbestos cloth and insulation in its products. From 1959 to 1975, Raybestos-Manhattan supplied asbestos cloth to the company. Electric Boat used about 90,000 square feet of asbestos cloth per submarine. Documents show this cloth may have been used in 55 submarines.

The company also contracted with Cummings Insulation. Records from the early 1960s to the early 1970s report Electric Boat purchased $250,000 worth of asbestos-containing products from Cummings Insulation each year. This insulation contained up to 90% asbestos.

Electric Boat used several kinds of asbestos insulation, including spray-on hull insulation, pipe insulation and duct insulation.

Asbestos products used by Electric Boat include, but are not limited to:

03. Occupational Exposure

General Dynamics Electric Boat and Occupational Exposure

Electric Boat used asbestos products in numerous components of submarine construction. This widespread use led employees of multiple occupations to experience asbestos exposure.

Records show Electric Boat used asbestos in its vessels from the 1950s into the late 1970s. Additionally, asbestos gloves were in use at company facilities until the 1990s.

In 1972, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued regulations requiring asbestos materials be labeled as a health risk. However, these warnings were placed on the exterior packaging and may not have been seen by those installing, maintaining or removing the products.

According to reports, Electric Boat employees who worked for the company for eight or more years were most commonly overexposed to asbestos. Workers were most at risk during submarine overhauls and maintenance.

Occupations Impacted by General Dynamics Electric Boat’s Asbestos Use
04. Asbestos Litigation

Asbestos Litigation Against General Dynamics Electric Boat

Since the mid-1970s, Electric Boat has been involved in asbestos-related lawsuits. The cases brought against Electric Boat by former employees often fall under the jurisdiction of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. This act was originally established in 1927 to provide coverage to maritime workers who were injured or disabled in the course of their work.

Currently, asbestos exposure is covered by the act. Affected employees who successfully prove their exposure happened during maritime work or service may be entitled to compensation. Typically, this is calculated as a percentage of the employee’s average weekly pay during their service.

Workers who were not exposed to Electric Boat asbestos products during maritime work may still be eligible for compensation. Exposure to Electric Boat asbestos products occurred among workers from a variety of fields. For instance, cleaners and painters present in the construction facilities during submarine retrofitting and maintenance also reported asbestos exposure.

Other employees may have been exposed when working more directly with asbestos. One such claim came from Ernest Green, a full-time employee at Electric Boat from 1949 to 1978.

Green was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in July 1989 and died from the disease in December of the same year. His wife filed a claim for workers’ compensation death benefits. In 1993, she was awarded death benefits at a weekly rate based on Ernest’s last wages at Electric Boat.

Electric Boat appealed the decision, though it did concede Ernest’s work at Electric Boat caused his asbestos exposure and mesothelioma diagnosis. The court ultimately found in favor of Green. It has been remanded to the appellate court to calculate the weekly death benefits to be awarded to the Green family.

Electric Boat continues to be named in asbestos-related lawsuits today. The company pays successful claimants with its own funds.

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