Brooklyn Navy Yard Worker With Mesothelioma Wins Compensation
The story he told during depositions opened a window into the dangerous working conditions he and other shipyard workers endured below deck as they trustingly plied their trade in good faith, only to be poisoned by asbestos product manufacturers who betrayed their trust.
Before the use of asbestos was regulated, the shipbuilding industry relied heavily on asbestos to fireproof ship interiors, especially during World War II. For decades in shipyards, asbestos was thickly applied in sleeping quarters, boiler rooms, ammunition rooms, galleys and in nearly every space below deck.
Asbestos use in the United States has dramatically decreased since the 1980s as public awareness about its dangers has grown. But ships built before then still pose dangerous health risks to shipyard workers responsible for repairing and maintaining them.
Client work history with asbestos
Between 1954 and 1964, our client, a unionized dock hand, worked full time at New York City’s Brooklyn Navy Yard. “I was a joiner and an insulator,” he testified to lawyers at a deposition hearing five months before he died of mesothelioma.
His job duties: Work below the decks of dry-docked aircraft carriers and replace old and deteriorating asbestos insulation materials with fresh, new asbestos materials.
“I had to cover walls with asbestos panels that came in planks. After we hung the panels, we filled the space between the planks with cement. Then I applied tape from top to bottom in order to seal the joints.” The panels, the cement and even the tape were all made with asbestos When the walls were cut to fit, or later sanded, both activities created a toxic dust cloud below deck.
Even before his work began, our client was exposed to airborne asbestos fibers by the activities of fellow workers who, he said, “tore off” the old “broken and deteriorated” asbestos panels before he mounted the new ones.
Old asbestos products that are deteriorating are described as “friable,” the most hazardous condition for workers. Minute, even microscopic, asbestos fibers will dislodge from friable products and become airborne. Regular inhalation of airborne asbestos fibers is the most frequent route for a deadly exposure to asbestos. Though asbestos regulations require respirators today, they were never used 50 years ago.
The ships he worked on for 10 years at the Brooklyn Navy Yard were primarily aircraft carriers, as he recalled, and included the New Jersey, the Constitution, the Enterprise, the Polaris and the Constellation.
Weitz & Luxenberg – The workers’ champion
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