Ingalls Shipbuilding and Asbestos
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Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi, built and repaired vessels for many decades, especially during World War II. It’s now known as Huntington Ingalls Industries and focuses on repairing and constructing U.S. Navy vessels. Unfortunately, Ingalls Shipbuilding relied heavily on asbestos in the past and put workers at risk of exposure and illness.
Did Ingalls Shipbuilding Use Asbestos?
Ingalls operated during the years when all shipyards used asbestos. Ships built in American shipyards between the 1930s and 1970s contained hundreds of asbestos components.
Both civilian workers and Navy veterans associated with Ingalls were put at risk of exposure to asbestos in the shipyard and on vessels. They also risked getting sick decades later.
History of Ingalls Shipbuilding
Ingalls opened in 1938 under the name Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation. It was founded in Pascagoula, Mississippi, by Robert Ingersoll Ingalls, Sr.
While the shipyard initially produced commercial ships, its business picked up quickly as World War II approached, and the military needed more vessels.
After the war, Ingalls’s primary focus was constructing this for the military. In 1957, Ingalls Shipbuilding won a big contract with the U.S. Navy to produce 12 nuclear attack submarines.
During the 1960s, under Litton Industries, the shipyard added a variety of ships to its construction lineup, including:
- Submarine tenders
- Additional nuclear submarines
The expansion came with increased construction, and by the mid-1970s, the shipyard had over 25,000 workers. The company continued to thrive, and by 2001, another company, Northrop Grumman Corporation, bought it from Litton Industries.
The devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 slowed business at the shipyard, even though most of its ships in dock avoided serious damage. The hurricane did cause a lot of facility and equipment damage, and the shipyard needed time to recover and resume production.
Six years later, in 2011, Northrup Grumman spun off all of the shipyards it owned. Together they became Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII). HII includes Ingalls Shipbuilding and Newport News Shipbuilding.
Ingalls won another Navy contract in 2015 and built destroyers, combat ships, and landing craft. It also won contracts for repairing and modifying existing Navy ships.
Ingalls Shipbuilding Today
Ingalls Shipbuilding remains open today and sits on 800 acres of land in Pascagoula. Ingalls continues to be one of the largest suppliers of warships to the U.S. Navy.
According to the shipyard’s official website, “Ingalls is the largest manufacturing employer in Mississippi and a major contributor to the economic growth of Mississippi and Alabama.” In 2021, Ingalls announced it would be hiring 3,000 more workers.
In early 2023, Ingalls won more contracts to keep its workers busy. These included a contract to update the Navy’s Zumwalt class guided-missile destroyers. The shipyard also broke ground on a new facility for building nuclear submarines.
How Did Ingalls Shipbuilding Use Asbestos?
Throughout numerous years while at Ingalls, workers experienced regular asbestos exposure. Ingalls was aware of the dangers of asbestos. However, little to nothing was ever done to help protect workers.
For decades, asbestos went into hundreds of ship components that Ingalls workers handled, including:
As people began developing life-threatening illnesses, asbestos lawsuits began mounting up. By 1991, over 3,000 former workers had filed asbestos lawsuits against the shipyard.
Ingalls Shipbuilding and Asbestos Lawsuits & Claims
Although Ingalls did acknowledge asbestos exposure at the job site, it did not get them off the hook for a massive amount of asbestos-related lawsuits. Back then, it was rare for a shipyard to acknowledge that they knew of the dangers of the toxic carcinogen.
In most cases, shipyard workers filed asbestos lawsuits against the asbestos manufacturers. In the case of Ingalls, however, the company itself was the centerpiece of many major asbestos lawsuits, including the case of Robert and Louise Overly.
Overly vs. Ingalls
The Overly couple filed a lawsuit against Ingalls Shipbuilding in the 1990s after Robert was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Robert was an employee of the company Westinghouse, and part of his work requirements included traveling to Ingalls during the 1960s to do field engineering work.
Court documents indicate that the shipyard exposed the plaintiff to “several types of asbestos insulation products, including pipe covering, block insulation, cement, and tape.”
“The Overlys’ claims against Ingalls are based on Robert’s asbestos exposure while he was employed by Westinghouse to work on ships under construction at Ingalls’ shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi,” the lawsuit claimed.
“Their general theory of negligence is that Ingalls knew or should have known about the dangers of asbestos and nevertheless exposed Robert to those dangers without providing any warning or protection.”
Robert testified that he was not aware and never informed that asbestos could end up hurting him; furthermore, he testified that not only was he never notified by Ingalls about asbestos, but that he was never offered any sort of protective gear that could have helped protect him from excessive asbestos exposure.
Other workers took the stand during Robert’s mesothelioma trial and testified that they, too, were never offered protective and safety gear.
Another witness for the prosecution, Dr. Barry Castleman, showed evidence that the shipyard knew about or should have known about the high levels of asbestos and how it could affect workers.
For instance, it was brought up in court that in 1942 the United States Maritime Commission sent out memos to shipyards discussing the dangers to people who inhale or ingest asbestos. Meetings were held to discuss how to reduce exposure and keep workers safe.
In December 1996, both Ingalls Shipbuilding and Westinghouse, along with the shipyard owner of Avondale, were found liable for Robert developing a fatal disease. The plaintiff won $400,000 in non-economic damages and $25,000 for loss of consortium.
Settlement Out of Court
Another worker, Jefferson Yates, developed asbestosis and chronic bronchitis after working as a ship fitter for over ten years at Ingalls. He filed an asbestos claim against the company, but instead of going to trial, Ingalls settled the claim out of court.
How to Seek Compensation if You Were Exposed to Asbestos at Ingalls
If you or a loved one worked at Ingalls and now have an asbestos illness, you have a right to seek compensation. First, talk to a Mississippi asbestos attorney who can review your case and provide invaluable advice.
One of your options might be to file a lawsuit against a company responsible for your exposure. Most of these kinds of lawsuits are against manufacturers that supplied shipyards with asbestos materials. Your lawyer can track down the asbestos companies that supplied Ingalls when you worked there.
Another option is to make a claim with an asbestos trust fund. If any one of the companies that supplied Ingalls went bankrupt, they likely set up a trust to compensate future victims. Your lawyer can help you make a claim with the appropriate trust.
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Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.