Willamette Iron and Steel Works played an important role during both world wars by repairing and building ships used during battles. The shipyard lasted for decades but eventually closed its doors following a string of safety violations. Willamette used asbestos in hundreds of ship components, which left some workers battling life-threatening illnesses.
About Willamette Iron and Steel Works
Established in 1865, Willamette Iron and Steel Works started as a machine and foundry company that manufactured steamboat boilers and engines. By the early 1900s, the company began building and repairing ships.
World War I
Business boomed for the Oregon-based shipyard during World War I. It built boilers for several machine works companies and shipyards along the west coast. It also began fitting out ships for Northwest Steel during this period.
The Interwar Years
Between the wars, Willamette Iron and Steel Works built small commercial ships and a geared steam locomotive named the “Willamette.” The shipyard workers also made more than 2500 steam donkeys, a type of steam-powered engine used in logging.
World War II
Willamette built more ships during World War II than at any other time. Workers there built more than 70 ships for the war effort. They also built more than 800 Russian gauge Baldwin steam locomotives that went to Vladivostok.
Later Years and Closing
After the wars, Willamette’s shipbuilding activities declined significantly, and employees worked on the projects. They built three turbine units for the Grand Coulee Dam and made fire hydrants for the city of Portland. Willamette also continued to make ship repairs.
Over the years, shipyard work at Willamette began to decline considerably as more powerful, larger shipyards were constructed. Willamette Iron and Steel Works ultimately reached the point where it couldn’t compete with the bigger shipyards and closed its doors in 1990.
How Was Asbestos Used at Willamette Iron and Steel Works?
Willamette Iron and Steels Works is one of the many shipyards associated with asbestos use. In addition to using asbestos products while repairing and creating ships, Willamette may have also worked with locomotive parts that contained asbestos.
Shipyards like Willamette used asbestos in hundreds of components that went into ships, including:
- Welding materials
- Safety and firefighting gear
- Equipment and tools
How Were Willamette Workers Harmed by Asbestos?
Some shipyard workers faced greater risks of exposure than others, but anyone working at Willamette could have been exposed to asbestos. When workers handle asbestos materials, either to install or repair parts on a ship, fibers can come loose and contaminate the air.
Without protective gear or safety standards, both of which were lacking in shipyards for many years, workers inhaled asbestos fibers.
This exposure to asbestos fibers led some workers to become sick years later. Life-threatening illnesses associated with asbestos exposure include malignant mesothelioma, asbestosis, and asbestos-related lung cancer.
Willamette Iron and Steel Asbestos Lawsuits
Although most workers filed asbestos lawsuits against the manufacturers that shipped asbestos-containing products to sites, there are a few instances in which workers filed mesothelioma lawsuits directly against the shipyard itself.
For decades, James McAllister worked as a shipyard carpenter with three different companies, including Willamette Iron & Steel Company, Albina Engine & Machine, and Lockheed Shipbuilding. Court documents indicated he started his career in 1956.
Court documents also indicate that McAllister alleged he was exposed to asbestos at all three shipyards. McAllister’s last employer was Willamette.
After numerous court hearings, combined with new rules under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, the court ultimately decided that because Albina was the “last responsible” employer of McAllister’s, it should be financially responsible for his illness and, ultimately, his death.
Although McAllister passed away from complications with mesothelioma in 2002, his widow continued the legal action. She acted on his behalf, ensuring that those responsible for the man’s death faced justice.
The lawsuit victory was an important victory for mesothelioma victims and helped set the stage for additional lawsuits that followed.
Safety Violations at Willamette Iron and Steel
In addition to asbestos exposure that led to lawsuits, Willamette Iron and Steel Works also faced an excessive amount of other types of safety violations.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which got involved after numerous complaints, there was a lack of basic safety at the shipyard, injuring many workers and even disabling a few workers permanently.
Housekeeping aboard the vessels was one of the major safety issues. One of the first issues occurred in December 1972, when the shipyard was accused of violating (OSHA) housekeeping standard, 29 C.F.R. § 1915.51(a). Court documents state that numerous hoses and welding leads on one of the vessels at the shipyard were left open, causing workers to injure themselves.
As OSHA violations grew in number, Willamette petitioned to have them dropped. The company was ultimately unsuccessful.
How Can Asbestos Exposure Victims Seek Compensation?
Like James McAllister and his family, other victims of asbestos exposure at Willamette have a right to seek justice and compensation. If you or a loved one worked at Willamette and now have an asbestos illness, talk to a mesothelioma attorney.
These expert lawyers can review your case for free, provide legal options, give you good advice, and guide your next steps and act on your behalf.
If any of the companies that supplied Willamette are still operational, you might be able to sue them for damages. If they went bankrupt, you might qualify for a claim with an asbestos trust fund.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
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.