Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard

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Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard was in operation from 1891 to 1997. The shipyard was very active during World War I (WWI) and World War II (WWII). During this time, asbestos was used heavily in shipbuilding. As a result, individuals who worked at this shipyard may be at risk of developing illnesses such as mesothelioma.

01. Shipyard History


Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard operated in Sparrows Point, Maryland, from 1891 to 1997.

The shipyard was first established by Maryland Steel Company. It was originally used for building tug boats, coastal passenger vessels, dredges, cargo ships and destroyers.

In 1916, Bethlehem Steel Corporation purchased Maryland Steel Company and took over Sparrows Point Shipyard. During WWII, Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard constructed ships to help rebuild the British Merchant Navy. It also built commercial ships. At this time, the shipyard employed 8,000 shipyard workers and built 101 vessels.

Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard continued to be active from the 1950s through the 1970s. During this period, many ships were built at the shipyard, including tankers, freighters and container ships.

In 1970, Sparrows Point Shipyard began to make improvements to their facilities with new buildings and a new flexible building basin.

Shipbuilding began to decline in the 1980s. In 1982, Bethlehem Steel closed its Baltimore Yards location and moved all shipbuilding, conversion and repairs to Sparrows Point. In 1997, Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard was sold to Baltimore Marine Industries Inc., which closed in 2003 due to bankruptcy. Today, the Sparrows Point Shipyard location is part of a 3,300-acre logistics center called Tradepoint Atlantic.

Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard History at a Glance

  • Other Names: Sparrows Point, Sparrows Point Shipyard
  • Location: Sparrows Point, Maryland, where the Chesapeake Bay meets the east side of the Patapsco River
  • Owner(s): Maryland Steel Company, Bethlehem Steel Corporation
  • Years of Operation: 1891 – 1997
  • Wartime Operations: World War I (WWI), World War II (WWII)
  • Number of Employees: 8,000 during WWII
  • Size of Shipyard: 200 acres
  • Noteworthy Ships: USS Tolovana, USS Chipola, USS Severn, USS Nantahala, USS Adair, SS Ancon/SS Shawmut, USNS Maury, USNS Tanner
  • Types of Ships Built/Serviced: Tugs, coastal passenger vessels, dredges, cargo ships, destroyers, tankers, dry bulk carriers, freighters, container ships, oceanographic survey ships

Many workers at Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard were potentially exposed to asbestos. Workers’ loved ones may have also experienced secondhand exposure. As a result, many people developed asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestosis, asbestos lung cancer, pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma. People who developed an asbestos-related disease may be eligible for compensation.

Notable Ships Built and Repaired

Hundreds of ships were built at Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard. Shipbuilding activities at Sparrows Point largely focused on naval vessels and commercial ships. Two notable U.S. Navy ships constructed at Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard include the USS Nantahala and USS Adair. Both were active in the Pacific during WWII.

USS Nantahala

The USS Nantahala was laid down at Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard in 1943. She began service in WWII as support to the Pacific Fleet in 1944, including the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. After the war, she conducted refueling and replenishment operations all over the world. In 1950, the USS Nantahala was decommissioned and entered the Pacific Reserve Fleet. The ship was recommissioned again that same year.

Quick Ship Facts
  • Ship’s Name: USS Nantahala
  • Year Built: 1943
  • Years In Service: 1944 – 1950, 1950 – 1973

In 1956, she replenished close to 100 ships during the Suez Crisis. The USS Nantahala supported ships during multiple unsettled situations in the Caribbean throughout the 1960s and was decommissioned in 1973. The USS Nantahala was scrapped in 1975.

The Navy required asbestos use on its vessels during the time of the USS Nantahala’s construction and repairs. As a result, anyone who worked on, served aboard or scrapped the ship is at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.

USS Adair

The USS Adair was originally laid down as the USS Exchester at Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard in 1943. As an attack transport vessel, the USS Adair participated in attacks against Japan during WWII. Notably, this included the invasion of Okinawa. During and after the war, she transported many troops to various locations across the Pacific. The USS Adair earned two battle stars during WWII.

Quick Ship Facts
  • Ship’s Name: USS Adair, aka USS Exchester, aka SS Express
  • Year Built: 1943
  • Years In Service: 1944 – 1946

The USS Adair was placed out of commission in 1946. The ship was sold in 1947 to American Export Lines Inc. of New York City and was refitted for mercantile service. She then served as the SS Express for two decades with American Export Lines Inc. and Mutual Steamship Operating Co.

Shipbuilders used asbestos frequently in construction, repairs and refitting during the life of the USS Adair. Anyone who worked on or boarded her as the USS Exchester, USS Adair or SS Express may be at risk of developing mesothelioma.

02. Shipyard Asbestos Use

Asbestos Use at the Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard

Asbestos has properties ideal for building ships. It is highly resistant to heat, fire and physical breakdown. Thus, shipbuilders used asbestos to decrease fire and combustion risks associated with heavy, dangerous equipment.

Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard was active from 1891 to 1997. During this time, asbestos use was very common. At Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard, asbestos was used as insulation in walls, boilers, incinerators and around pipes. As a result, workers came in contact with many products that put them at risk of asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos product highlight: Asbestos lagging

Lagging was a cloth-like material often used to wrap steam pipes in ships. It may have contained up to 90% asbestos. In some cases, shipyard employees manufactured their own lagging with insufficient safety equipment. This put workers at high risk of inhaling asbestos. Crew members were also at risk of exposure if the lagging was disturbed and released asbestos fibers into the air.

Asbestos Exposure at Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard

Civilian workers and military service members worked in shipyards and aboard ships. From the 1930s to the 1980s, tons of asbestos were used in shipyards and shipbuilding. As a result, U.S. Navy veterans and civilian workers at Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard faced a high risk of asbestos exposure and developing malignant mesothelioma cancer.

Those who helped maintain or repair tugs, coastal passenger vessels, dredges, cargo ships, destroyers, tankers, dry bulk carriers, freighters, container ships and oceanographic survey ships also faced these risks. The heavy use of the dangerous mineral, along with poor ventilation on ships, led to frequent asbestos exposure. For example, insulators were exposed through installation and maintenance work.

Exposed to asbestos at work: Insulators

People who installed, maintained or replaced insulation were at risk of asbestos exposure. Insulation used in the walls or interior of the ship could contain high amounts of asbestos. As workers handled the material, asbestos fibers could become airborne and easily inhaled.

Although asbestos use ceased at shipyards by the 1980s, workers and visitors may still risk exposure today. Asbestos materials may still be found on ships built before the 1980s and older equipment at shipyards. Working with asbestos insulation, repairing old boilers and other shipyard duties put individuals at risk of exposure.

03. Asbestos Lawsuits

Asbestos Lawsuits and Settlements

Anyone who was onsite at Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard and came in contact with asbestos products is at risk of developing asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestos cancer. These individuals have many options for compensation.

Asbestos product companies are responsible for exposing people to asbestos. The legal status of these companies can affect what compensation is available to victims. A mesothelioma lawyer can help victims determine if a lawsuit, settlement, VA claim and/or trust fund claim (or a combination of these) is the best compensation option.

Holding Asbestos Companies Responsible

Some companies that produced asbestos products are still viable. This means the company hasn’t filed for bankruptcy. Thus, individuals can file asbestos lawsuits against that company. These lawsuits could end in verdicts or settlements.

For example, people using or working around air compressors from Gardner Denver, Inc. were exposed to asbestos. The air compressors were often located in engine rooms exposing anyone working on engines, boilers, evaporators, switchboards and any other equipment located in the engine rooms.

Goulds Pumps, Inc. is another viable company that wrongfully exposed shipyard workers to asbestos through their pumps. Goulds Pumps was acquired by ITT Industries, Inc. in 1997, but continues to operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of ITT Industries.

Some victims have filed successful lawsuits against these companies.

Example Lawsuit Recovery for Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard Worker

79-Year-Old Former Shipyard Worker Diagnosed With Mesothelioma

Recovery: $980,000

Dates of Asbestos Exposure at Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard: 1941 – 1943, 1947 – 1952

A United States Navy machinist mate was employed as a shipyard worker at Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard for two years prior to serving in the Navy and for six years following his service. He worked with and around various asbestos products. He also worked around other tradesmen who used asbestos and asbestos-containing products. He breathed in air that contained dust particles created by cutting and sanding asbestos products and components.

04. Filing Asbestos Claims

Asbestos Company Trusts

After exposing many people to asbestos and dealing with the associated claims, more than 100 companies have filed for bankruptcy since the 2000s. As part of their bankruptcy filings, many of these asbestos companies created asbestos trust funds to compensate current and future victims of asbestos diseases.

Many Navy veterans, shipyard workers and others have developed asbestos-related illnesses after asbestos exposure on the job. Victims can seek compensation by filing a claim against the responsible asbestos manufacturer’s trust fund.

Asbestos Company Trust Funds and Eligible Years of Employment

The following companies provided asbestos products to Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard. After facing many asbestos lawsuits and exposing innocent people to asbestos, these companies filed for bankruptcy and created trusts to pay victims. If an individual worked at Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point Shipyard and developed a disease such as mesothelioma, they may be able to file a mesothelioma claim against these companies’ trusts.

Asbestos Trust Funds & Eligible Years of Employment
Asbestos Company Name Eligibility Start Date Eligibility End Date
AC&S, Inc. 1/1/1961 12/31/1982
A.P. Green 1/1/1963 1/1/1963
Armstrong WI Trust 1/1/1938 12/31/1982
Babcock & Wilcox 1/1/1916 12/31/1982
Combustion Engineering 1/1/1916 12/31/1982
Fibreboard 1/1/1938 12/31/1982
GI Holdings (GAF) 10/12/1965 12/31/1982
Harbison Walker 10/24/1970 11/13/1971
Keene Corporation 1/1/1920 12/31/1982
Owens Corning 1/1/1934 12/31/1982
Pittsburgh Corning 7/1/1962 12/31/1982
Porter Hayden 1/1/1928 12/31/1982
United States Gypsum 1/1/1938 12/31/1982