Baltimore Marine Industries
Bethlehem Steel, a major company that was founded in 1857, purchased a shipyard in Sparrows Point, Maryland in 1916. They operated the facility until the 1990's, and during this time it was used to build and repair large ships. It became a major part of several war efforts, as the site was dedicated to fixing American Naval ships that had been damaged by enemy vessels, submarines and other sources.
The Sparrows Point yard employed many people over the years, and the number of workers would noticeably increase during a time of war. All of the people who spent time working for Bethlehem Steel knew the dangers associated with the jobs they held, but there was one could not have been aware of: the presence of a toxic material called asbestos.
People did know that they worked with products that contained asbestos. For years it was one of the most commonly used materials in the United States, but until the 1970's most did not realize that the mineral is poisonous. Workers spent their entire day around insulation and other goods that were made with asbestos, and during that time they were subjected to breathing in microscopic bits of the hazardous substance. As people inhaled more and more of these particles, they became very likely to develop chronic breathing disorders, various types of cancer and other diseases that are associated with exposure to asbestos. Over time many were stricken with mesothelioma, a disease that has claimed the lives of thousands of American workers.
After people became aware of the dangers of asbestos, a nationwide effort to remove tainted goods was put in place. Locations such as the Maryland based shipyard began to be cleaned up by certified crews. This is an expensive and long term project that was necessary to protect the health of everyone in the area, here is no way of knowing how many people had been affected before this finally occurred.
In 1997 Bethlehem Steel sold the shipyard to Baltimore Marine Industries. Unfortunately, they also inherited the problems that went along with obtaining a location that utilized asbestos products for several decades, including ongoing cleanup efforts and a multitude of lawsuits from workers who had been made ill while working at the facility. The new owner was forced to declare bankruptcy by 2003.
Last modified: December 28, 2010.