Marathon LeTourneau built vessels at the Brownsville site from approximately 1972 until 1985. Rigs constructed at that time include towboats and semi-submersibles. Ships built under the AMFELS name include drilling barges, deck barges, sludge carriers, multi-purpose support ships, and several other varieties. Keppels AMFELS property in Brownsville continues to produce commercial vessels and is still a prolific shipyard.
During the early years of this Brownsville shipyard, the use of asbestos aboard ships was still permitted and the dangerous mineral was employed for a number of purposes on vessels of all varieties. Pipefitters, steamfitters, plumbers, insulators, electricians, boilermakers, and others who built or repaired ships were often exposed to asbestos on a daily basis and usually did not wear protective gear when working with the mineral.
Although the U.S. government issued warnings about the use of asbestos in 1977, in some cases asbestos use continued. Also, shipyard workers were often exposed to older ships constructed while the use of asbestos was legal. That means, despite the government warnings about any new uses of asbestos, employees still may have encountered the toxic mineral.
AMFELS Brownsville was just one of many United States shipyards were workers were exposed to asbestos. As a matter of fact, shipyard workers in the U.S. have one of the highest rates of asbestos-related diseases in the country because the use of asbestos was so widespread aboard both commercial and military vessels.
Unfortunately, records show that some individuals in charge knew about the dangers of asbestos inhalation but did not share this important information with employees, allowing them instead to work without benefit of protective masks or respirators. The result, 40-50 years later, is scores of individuals with asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma, a cancer which usually kills its victims within a year of diagnosis.