Consolidated Steel came into existence in 1929 when Union Iron Works, Baker Iron Works and Llewellyn Iron Works merged into one company. The company began building ships by leasing the former Craig Shipbuilding site in Long Beach, California.
Consolidated Steel secured a contract with the U.S. Maritime Commission which led to the establishment of a shipyard in Wilmington, California as well. The shipyard began with four waterways and expanded to eight at the peak of building during the war. The shipyard employed 12,000 welders, pipe fitters, and steel tradesmen for that short period of time.
The shipyard produced C1-B troopships and cargo ships many of which were sold to Great Britain. Some of the ships were sunk during the war, some were scrapped by the U.S. Navy, but many of the 160 ships survived to be sold to foreign countries. Most of these were scrapped in the 1960s, but some sold in Asia weren't scrapped until the late 1970s. One that was sold to Egypt remained in service until 1984.
Consolidated Steel tried to keep the shipyard open, but when the Defense Department contracts dried up, the company liquidated the facility.
Consolidated Steel Shipyards used asbestos as an insulator and fire retardant in all their construction. Many of the workers were exposed to the dust as asbestos pipes and blankets were cut to fit. Immediate symptoms were mild, though irritating. The real problems would not show up in most case for many years.
For years, symptoms related to shipyard asbestos exposure were misdiagnosed. Fluid in the lungs was mistaken for pneumonia. Chest pain was misdiagnosed as a heart problem. Lung cancer was attributed to other causes, which may have had some justification if a worker was a smoker. But many cancer victims weren't smokers.
The real problem lays in the fact that asbestos fibers slowly perforate the delicate air sacs of the lungs. This process can do two things. It can cause scar tissue which is rigid and inflexible, or it can break down the air sac. In both cases, shortness of breath occurs as oxygen capacity decreases. Damage can take 20 to 50 years to show up. The presence of the asbestos fibers has also been linked to mesothelioma, or asbestos cancer, which is found most commonly in the lining of the lungs, but can also show up in the abdomen.
Anyone working in these shipyards during the war probably faced some degree of asbestos exposure.