Liberty ships may have exposed unsuspecting sailors to asbestos

Most people are aware that the phrase "The Greatest Generation" refers to those who grew up in the United States during the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II. However, it is important to note that this group also includes those who worked in manufacturing, shipyards and other home front factories during the war - workers whose material production was a key contribution to the war effort as well. Unfortunately, these factory and shipyard workers may have been unknowingly exposing themselves to asbestos as they were performing their patriotic duties.

Liberty ships and asbestos

One such product that was manufactured at breakneck speed at the beginning of World War II was ships. This was largely due to the fact that the U.S. merchant fleet was unprepared at the time for the increase in transoceanic shipping of war materials and troops.

In response to this ship deficiency, an emergency ship building program was created in 1941 that utilized an assembly line to produce mass quantities of standardized ships - ships otherwise known as "Liberty ships."

According to the National Park Service, nearly 3,000 Liberty ships were built in all, with war time crews consisting of 38 to 62 merchant marines and 21 to 40 naval sailors. Unfortunately for these sailors, asbestos was still heavily used in shipbuilding at this time due to its ability to resist heat and insulate well. For example, there were often high concentrations of asbestos in the ships' engine rooms from the boilers and turbines.

The reason asbestos exposure it so dangerous is that the microscopic asbestos fibers can remain airborne for several hours, and when inhaled, can eventually lead to mesothelioma and asbestosis. Tragically, countless sailors and shipyard workers may have been dangerously exposed to asbestos on Liberty ships throughout the years.

Foreigners' asbestos exposure on Liberty ships

Unfortunately, the dangers posed by asbestos on Liberty ships are not confined solely to U.S. sailors and shipbuilders as these ships were often sold to merchant shipping companies in other countries following World War II. In addition, several other post-war ships were built using the basic Liberty ship design - meaning many of these ships were often manufactured using asbestos.

Now, several decades later, many of the sailors and shipbuilders associated with Liberty ships are developing mesothelioma. Further complicating the issue is that many of the foreign citizens who worked on Liberty ships - or similarly designed ships - following World War II are also experiencing asbestos related diseases. Fortunately for these foreign claimants, they will often have standing to file lawsuits in U.S. courts, although special challenges for these types of claims generally exist.

The law surrounding asbestos claims can be quite complex and difficult to navigate - for both U.S. and foreign claimants. Accordingly, if you believe your exposure to asbestos may have led to an asbestos related illness, it is important to speak with an experienced asbestos litigation attorney to be advised of your rights and options.