War-time shipwright exposed to asbestos never new it was harmful to his health
The shipwright reportedly obtained his employment at the docks immediately after high school.
Despite the fact that he did not actually process asbestos, he was exposed to it as it was mixed by hand by others in close proximity to him.
According to a local newspaper, he retired in 1985 and had been healthy until just a year ago, when he was diagnosed with asbestos-related lung cancer.
Many shipwrights were exposed to asbestos, fiberglass, and welding fumes.
While the pipe laggers were the tradesmen that handled the asbestos, a shipwright might be exposed while setting a bracket or plate next to a pipe and accidentally hit the pipe and dislodge some asbestos, for example.
The shipwrights were the cream of the journeymen crop. The did everything from outfitting, to establishing the cribbing on the launching gang, to shoring.
Many shipwrights worked on the outfitting docks and did ship reconversion.
They also did a lot of work on the forepeak and hawse pipes when not working below deck.
Most transporters were converted to passenger ships after the war; there was a lot of shifting of equipment and pipes. Basically, the ships were gutted and would be completely revamped.
The shipwrights would do all the woodworking, finish work, and plates. Then, when everything was in place, it would be insulated, and the pipes would be lagged.
The lagging could take six to 10 months, sometimes longer. They were constantly cutting these sections of asbestos to fit the pipes. Then they would attach the sections with a paste and wrap it with asbestos wrapping.
"Sometimes the asbestos was so thick you couldn't see five feet in front of you. It was white and hung in the welding fumes like smog," said one shipwright who was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, he said, "Nobody ever said it was dangerous. We were bothered more by the fiberglass and welding fumes than anything. We thought fiberglass was more dangerous because it was itchy and caused a rash."
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