Located in the town of Palatka, Florida, on an inlet of the broad St. John’s River, the Offshore Shipbuilding company specialized in the repair and construction of a large variety of ships and other watercraft, serving private, commercial, and government interests. Barges, tugboats, passenger ships, ferries, and fishing boats were among the craft built and repaired at the site, which closed its doors about a decade ago. Today. The St. John’s Shipbuilding company owns and operates the facility. But during its operation, Offshore Shipbuilding offered employment to nearly 100 residents of the Palatka area and its surrounding towns.
Shipbuilding and repair relies on a specific set of skills, and the workers who possess those skills are often highly sought after by successful shipbuilding concerns. And many of these construction, repair, and restoration projects require highly specialized materials, designed and manufactured specifically to suit the unique environment of salt and freshwater use. Many of the components of both large and small watercraft are exposed to extreme weather conditions, and boilers, propulsion systems, and electrical systems require special insulation materials to keep them dry and operational despite the water that surrounds them. Devising materials that can withstand so many variations in temperature and moisture levels can be a daunting task. Prior to the mid 1970s, the material that seemed ideally suited to meet these demanding needs was the readily available silica-based mineral, asbestos.
With high resistance to both heat and corrosion, asbestos could insulate delicate heating and propulsion components without becoming water-logged and rusted over time. Moreover, because the fibrous material is extremely strong and flexible, materials which relied on asbestos could be molded into different shapes while still retaining the strength needed for industrial marine applications. Such flexibility made asbestos a widely sought after material in the manufacture of many of the waterproof gaskets required in marine applications.
By the mid 1970s, scientists had revealed the unique dangers associated with the versatile asbestos fibers, and federal legislation made it illegal to use asbestos in manufacturing. But by then, millions of employees had been exposed to the tiny, airborne fibers which are easily inhaled, lodging in the lungs where they can cause potentially deadly conditions, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. If you or a loved one were employed by the Offshore Shipbuilding , you should see your doctor for screening for malignant mesothelioma and other diseases, which can take as long as 20 to 50 years to manifest and mesothelioma navy cases are more common.