During World War II, the Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Company built an astounding 281 T2 tankers as part of the government’s emergency shipbuilding program. The output accounted for about 40% of the entire number of tankers used by the United States during the war effort. Sun workers also constructed hospital ships and cargo and escort carriers for the United States Maritime Commission.
At the start of the war, the shipyard was quite large, among the five largest shipyards in the United States. But expansion during the war, including the construction of 20 additional slipways, resulted in the company’s claiming the role of the nation’s largest shipyard. At the height of its production, Sun employed more than 40,000 men and women at its four shipyards.
Following the end of the war, Sun concentrated on the construction of commercial and industrial craft, selling part of its holdings for industrial development. The company was finally sold to Pennsylvania Shipbuilding in 1982, which closed the facility in 1989.
Like thousands of shipyards across the United States, Sun owed its rapid expansion and production capabilities to the use of inexpensive and plentiful manufacturing and repair materials. Prior to the mid-1970s, the majority of these materials were composed in part of asbestos.
Viewed as a versatile material by those involved in the manufacture of ship parts and materials, asbestos offered both heat and corrosion resistance and its added strength and flexibility made it highly prized for a number of marine applications, including the omnipresent gaskets and aerosolized spray-on coatings which added insulation and protection to marine vessels.
Although it appeared an ideal material for these uses, by the mid-1970s safety and health studies had revealed that asbestos was, in fact, a highly dangerous substance that could cause malignant mesothelioma.
Once inhaled or ingested, the tiny, fibrous particles attaché themselves permanently to the lungs and other internal organs, causing scarring and potentially deadly conditions, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis, among others.
If you or a loved one worked at Sun, it’s important that you speak to your health care provider regarding possible exposure risks as mesothelioma navy cases are most common.