The idea of a World War was something that couldn’t be imagined prior to the 20th century. Then we had two in a matter of 35 years. The number of people killed in the wars was staggering. The fact that people continued to die for forty or fifty years after the end of World War II was all the more shocking until the cause was discovered.
Asbestos has long been considered a miracle material of sort. It is highly resistant to heat, which makes it a great insulator and fire wall wherever heat and electricity are found. This was a known fact for hundreds of years, but never really led to its use in a major way. Then World War II rolled around. Despite being the second of the two huge wars, it was the first that involved a really massive production of military materials. This led to the widespread use of asbestos and a resulting Mesothelioma nightmare.
Hawaii notwithstanding, the World War II battle arena was in other countries ranging from Europe to much of Asia. This necessitated the movement of resources across vast stretches of the ocean. This in turn called for the construction of a huge number of transport ships to move the resources as well as naval ships to protect them and dominate the seas. To achieve this, ships were put on the fast track in construction.
The war effort saw hundreds of thousands flow into factories and docks to help. In the case of ship building, this meant a hoard of people willing to do just about anything to speed up production. A Liberty cargo ship took only two weeks to build at Kaiser Shipyards at one point. The problem was many shortcuts were taken to make this happen, many that exposed the workers to massive health risks.
Asbestos is a cause of Mesothelioma. In the construction of the various types of ships being created, the workers used everything from rope to gloves to caulking to insulation and so on that incorporated asbestos as their key material component. The war is long over, but it is now believed as many as 100,000 died from Mesothelioma and lung cancer caused by this exposure to asbestos. As a mater of comparison, there were roughly 10,000 casualties of which 2,500 died for the Allies on D-Day.
Mesothelioma is a horrible disease and it is a bit shocking that our government would so hastily expose hundreds of thousands to its ravages. The story of asbestos use without notice is a ghastly one that has been repeated throughout history.