Asbestos in the military

Alabama Dry Dock and Shipping Company (ADDSCO) in Mobile, Alabama

Description: History of the Alabama Dry Dock and Shipping Company (ADDSCO) in Mobile, Alabama, including information about asbestos exposure for shipyard workers.

In 1917, Ollinger and Bruce Drydock Company, Gulf City Boiler Works, Alabama Iron Works, and Gulf Dry Dock Company merged to become Alabama Dry Dock and Shipping Company, also known as ADDSCO. ADDSCO became one of the largest marine manufacturing centers in the earlier part of the 20th century, dedicated to Gulf region shipping, repairs, and construction. Originally a repair yard for large ships, Alabama Dry Dock played an active role in both World Wars. The company built and assembled the Bankhead Tunnel after World War I.

At the start of World War II, the U.S. Maritime Commission named Alabama Dry Dock one of nine emergency shipyards to focus only on producing naval warships. Because the demand for warships was so high, ADDSCO became the single largest employer in Alabama, employing almost 30,000 workers. Of these workers, over 2,500 of them were women. Women workers at Alabama Dry Dock were responsible for welding or quality control. Over 25 percent of all defense-related jobs in Mobile, Alabama were held by women.

Alabama Dry Dock was also one of the largest employers of African-Americans at the time, in lower-level jobs, like assistants to white welders. Despite initial efforts to run segregated facilities, some African-American workers were promoted to welders and became part of previously all-white crews. There was a race riot in May of 1943 that required the intervention of the National Guard; it was not safe for the African-American employees to return to work for several days.

Alabama Dry Dock and Shipping Company produced 20 Liberty destroyers between 1941 and 1942, some of which went to the British fleet as part of the Lend-Lease program. Demand shifted due to losses in the open seas, and ADDSCO produced 90 oil tankers between 1943 and 1945. Alabama Dry Dock also refitted 2,800 ships for combat by the end of the war.

After World War II, ADDSCO had to lay off thousands of workers each month, reducing its workforce to about 2,000 employees by the 1960s. The shipyard served as a repair facility until 1967, when it began building rescue ships for the U.S. Navy. Alabama Dry Dock continued to build rescue ships until the project ended in 1972.

Other projects also kept ADDSCO shipyard workers busy in the 1970s, including construction of the George Wallace Tunnel on Interstate 10. Alabama Dry Dock was also one of three companies to help transform the tanker Manhattan into the largest ice-breaking ship in the world. The Manhattan sailed the Northwest Passage to open the sea route to the oil fields of Alaska. Later in the decade, ADDSCO built four semi-submersible oil platforms to be used by the Coral Drilling Company in the Gulf of Mexico.

Alabama Dry Dock and Shipping Company continued to repair ships until the facility was damaged by a series of accidents in the 1980s. The facility was sold to Atlantic Marine Holdings in 1989 and split into two companies, Atlantic Marine Mobile and Alabama Shipyard. The companies were both sold to JFL Partners, LLC in 2006, and have been combined again to become Atlantic Marine Alabama.

Before the 1970s, asbestos was commonly used in many shipbuilding components because of its fireproofing properties. Asbestos was used in boilers, incinerators, steam pipe insulation, and hot water pipes. While OSHA now regulates asbestos use in shipyards, Alabama Dry Dock employees who worked there prior to the 1970s were often exposed to asbestos without the aid of protective clothing, respiratory gear, or proper ventilation, putting them at risk for inhalation of asbestos fibers.

When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lungs. This can cause a number of serious illnesses, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other forms of cancer. Mesothelioma is a rare but serious form of cancer that is often misdiagnosed as pneumonia or lung cancer unless the doctor is aware of prior exposure to asbestos. While mesothelioma can take over 40 years before symptoms begin to manifest, many patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma often learn that they have less than a year to live.

Alabama Dry Dock workers should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with mesothelioma. Anyone who worked at Alabama Dry Dock in Mobile and is diagnosed with mesothelioma should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.

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