As military dominance slowly ceded from traditional European powers to the United States following WWI, there were many factors which were contributing to the shift. Among them were the changes that Industrial America had adopted. The United States was now capable of production levels that were virtually unmatchable elsewhere on the globe. Because of these unprecedented production levels, many industries thrived in the United States. Among these was the shipyard industry.
Henry Kaiser was one who immediately saw the value of the American industrial machine in the shipping business, particularly with the threat of another world war around the corner. Directly following the entrance of the United States into the war, Kaiser formed a shipyard in Vancouver, Washington in 1942. Focus was entirely on naval production, where demands for production had never been higher due to the new concept of trans-global warfare that was emerging between Europe and the Pacific Rim. Kaiser developed two additional shipyards in Richmond, California and Portland, Oregon to assist his original Vancouver operation with naval demands. By the end of the war, the Vancouver shipyard was creating nearly one ship every week. Overall production between the three yards yielded nearly 1,500 vessels during the peak war-time years.
Like the soldiers on the battlefields of Europe and the South Pacific, American industrialists like Henry Kaiser answered the call of our nation as well during wartime. Perhaps more important however, are the men and women who provided the backbone of labor to these shipyards. One of the more unfortunate aspects of working at these shipyards was the toxic substances that these men and women were exposed to while engaged in the production and repair of vessels. Asbestos was a prominent substance used prior to the late 1970's in ship construction and repair. Asbestos is a highly dangerous known cause of mesothelioma, used extensively for its insulating qualities in many industries, but particularly in vessel construction and repair.
Asbestos was used in nearly all aspects of ship construction, but more commonly in areas that required insulated fixtures. Electrical, Plumbing, and hull insulation shipyard workers were all likely to use asbestos in their insulation compositions. Because of this, those employees who worked in or around these fixtures in construction or repair capacities could be at risk of developing asbestos related diseases, including mesothelioma cancer. Nearly all former and current shipyard employees should monitor their respiratory health closely, but particularly those who worked in the above-mentioned areas. Consult a physician for guidance if adverse symptoms manifest because support is available for you and your family.