Health and Safety Issues in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the Inter-War Years

General Safety Rules for Navy Yards, 1928

C.  Asbestos in the Brooklyn Navy Yard

1. A list of safety items carried in stock the BNY in 1928:

Renewal cartridges for paint spraying respirators;
Flet filters for dust respirators;
Spectacle frames, w/o lenses for clip cup goggles;
Asbestos gloves;
Eyecup goggles for dust and particles;
Eyecup goggles for dust, fumes, gas;
Goggles with shades 3-6;
Hand-shields for welding and cutting, w/o lenses;
Babbitting helmets, w/ lenses;
Sandblasting helmets w/ lenses and cover screen;
Welding helmets, w/o lenses;
Fire-emergency hoods, and hoses;
Filter lenses for eyecups goggles for shades 3-6;
Cover lenses, clear, for welders' eyecup goggles, and for welders' hand-shields;
Filter lenses for hand-shields and helmets shades 8-14;
Clear lenses for babbitting helmets;
Lenses and cover creens for sandblasting helmets;
Dust respirators;
Paint spraying respirators, cartridge type, and hose masks for toxic justs and gases.
[Letter, from the Commandant, to ASN; 9 May 1928; RG181; NA-NY]
2. Asbestos Safety Equipment, 1938
A safety engineer's report concerning the pipe installation and covering shop (Building #10) mentions that a "B-2 type half-mask with double disc is in use in the asbestos mixing room in the mixing of magnesia and fibre for insulation work by workmen. Mr. Burt, the Quarterman in charge, states that the  mask appears to answer the purposes for which it is intended in the elimination of asbestos dust in the mixing operations."

[Memo, William Stewart, Sr. Inspector of Safety, to Lt. Cmdr. T. E. Flaherty; "General inspection report for week ending February 4, 1938"; RG181; NA-NY.]


3. Some Asbestos Workers in the BNY, 1940

Not all asbestos workers were on warships.

A report listing personnel needs for certain projects in 1941 mentions that asbestos workers will be among 19 trades that will be used to:
Extend the boiler shop;
Make various repairs and additions to the Central power plant;
Reconstruct building ways #1.
[Letter, Commandant, to Chief BuDocks; Public Works Program 1941; 23 May 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]
4. Safety Precautions in the BNY, 1940
Contrary to the claim of some in government and industry that the dangers of asbestos [at least asbestosis] were not discoved until the 1960s, there are these documents from the BNY.

a. A report by the Yard's medical officer in April 1940 based on "a careful study of industrial occupational conditions" in the navy yard and standards advised by the U.S. Public Health Service recommends that "periodical physical exams [be given to the following] employees exposed to potential health hazards":
-Sandblasters: semi-annual inclusive chest x-ray;
-Amosite or other asbestos workers: annual inclusive chest x-ray, in January;
-Industrial x-ray and radium workers: bimonthly complete blood study;
-Pickling plant workers in coppersmith shop: semi-annual report;
-Electric and gas welders: "not indicated unless continuously assigned to welding/cutting metal painted with lead or metal containing lead, in which case a semi-annual exam;"
-Slate and red putty workers in paint shop: semi-annual;
-Spray painters: annual, to include blood exams;
-Brush painters: not needed unless continuously assigned to lead paint;
[Memo, Medical Officer of the Yard, to Commandant; 26 April 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

In May 1940, the Commandant orders the program put into effect.

[Commandant's Order 39-40, 25 July 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

b.  In November 1940, the Shop Superintendent of the Charleston (SC) Navy Yard writes to his counterpart at the BNY inquiring about what safety precautions his Yard uses in handling amosite and fibrous glass.

The BNY Superintendent replies that amosite and asbestos workers are given a physical exam including an X-ray of the chest every January;
Exhaust blowers are installed in the shops where the material is cut to shape and fitting covers are formed.

For fibrous glass, workers must keep the collar of their shirt buttoned up; if they roll up their sleeve, they fix them in place with bands; they wear clear goggles with guards; and have pail of water to wash exposed skin.
[Letter, Shop Supt, CNY, to Shop Supt, NYNY; 19 November 1940; Reply, 28 November 1940; RG181: NA-NY.]

c. In December 1940 the Yard's Safety Engineer conducted another inspection in building 10 where pipe insulation (lagging) was manufactured [see #2 above].  He noted that the motor of the exhaust fan over the hooded work bench that carryied off asbestos dust sparked excessively and needed repair.  He also noted that the fan was too small, and later in the following year a larger one was installed.
[Memo, Safety Engineer, to Production Officer; 10 December 1940; handwritten note on memo dated 6 September 1941; RG181; NA-NY,]

d. A report by the Yard's Medical Officer at year's end notes that among other workers [sandblasters; slate and red putt painters] foundry amosite and asbestos workers are due to examined during the month of January 1941.
[Memo, Medical Officer, to Manager; 31 December 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

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Part C.:   John R Stobo        ©        July 2004