Ingalls Shipbuilding is located in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the Pascagoula River empties into the Mississippi Sound. It is the largest employer in the state, with almost 11,000 employees, although in the past as many as 25,000 people have worked there. Ingalls is a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman.
Ingalls Shipbuilding has been making large commercial vessels of all sorts since 1938, including luxury cruise liners, cargo and container ships, and oil tankers. Their versatile workers also make platforms and equipment for the offshore drilling industry.
In the early 1950s, Ingalls Shipbuilding also began building and maintaining surface ships and nuclear submarines for the U.S. Navy. They’ve built 82 major warships since 1975, including amphibious assault ships, submarine tenders, destroyers, ammunition ships, nuclear submarines, and guided missile cruisers. Ingalls has also made warships for the Israeli Navy, and recently upgraded two frigates for the Venezuelan Navy.
According to the Navy, any ship built prior to 1980 is believed to contain friable asbestos insulation. This means that, throughout the ship but especially in the engine and fire rooms, any fibrous material protecting against heat, liquid, or noise probably contains asbestos fibers. This includes pre-formed pipe insulation, pipe mud, gaskets, lagging, brake and clutch linings, winch and capstan brakes, and roofing and flooring materials.
The shipyard workers who installed insulation prior to the mid-1970s sometimes did so under unregulated working conditions. Workers were not informed about the dangers of inhaling asbestos fibers, including the risk of developing asbestosis or mesothelioma (A rare form of asbestos cancer that, in its most common form of pleural mesothelioma, affects the lungs of those afflicted), especially in enclosed and unventilated areas, like the working spaces aboard ships.
There have been several precedent-setting court cases involving asbestos exposure at Ingalls Shipbuilding, some of them going through the justice system as high as the U.S. Supreme Court. In one, the widow of a shipyard worker sued Ingalls not only for the years she did not get to spend with her husband because of his early, asbestos-related death, but also for the salary he did not earn because of his illness. She won her case, and the higher court affirmed the decision upon appeal.