U.S.S. Chauncey DD-667 (Fletcher-Class, Destroyer)
The History of the U.S.S. Chauncey:
The U.S.S. Chauncey was named after Isaac Chauncey, a long-serving naval officer who fought both in the Revolution and 1812. Chauncey won bold victories over the British in the Great Lakes, as well as performing duties as a respected shipyard superintendent at the New York Naval Yard. Chauncey, however, served as Naval Yard Superintendent at a time when asbestos was not as widely used in vessels. The U.S.S. Chauncey would go on to protect many of the most important Allied marine routes in the Second World War, from the Caribbean to the Pacific.
Just as her namesake had served into two separate centuries, the U.S.S. Chauncey would make contributions in two very different eras, at two crucial times in US history.
The U.S.S. Chauncey came from one of the oldest shipyards on the Eastern seaboard, the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. That yard, in Kearny, New Jersey, developed incredibly quick production schedules: from November 1942 when the Chauncey’s keel was laid, it took only four months to her launch. To help meet production demands, most shipyards turned to increased asbestos uses.
After launch, the Chauncey had three months of shakedown. By August of 1943, she was bound to Hawaii to become part of ferocious Pacific fighting. Long tours at sea held special asbestos risks to these crews. As a Fletcher-class destroyer, the USS Chauncey’s design was perfect, both for screening carriers and in supporting troop landings on islands
Repairs and Upgrades
The site of the U.S.S. Chauncey’s construction (Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock) used asbestos at various times. Asbestos was not only a potential risk to the Federal Shipbuilding workers, but to the onboard crewmembers, involved in the emergency repairs and upgrades that a US Naval destroyer such as the Chauncey DD-667 soon required.
By early October 1943, Chauncey’s crew had become an integral part of a fast carrier task force. After this period of heavy duty, including almost daily attacks by Japanese forces, the Chauncey required an extensive overhaul in 1944, back in Pearl. Experts note these periods of repair, aimed at getting a vital vessel back into service, also meant exposure to asbestos. Soon, she was back at sea and again in the thick of battle. The crew eventually won seven battle stars in WWII.
After WWII, the Chauncey was officially placed into vessel reservist status. Because of her heavy battle use, she needed extensive work to keep her battle ready. But the Chauncey was not done, and she went on to win two more battles stars in Korea. It was not to be until almost thirty years later that the US Navy did finally admit to the many dangers in scrapping a vessel. Great risks of releasing asbestos fibers came along with removing what were sometimes miles of a naval vessel’s asbestos-insulated wiring.
Asbestos Risks On the U.S.S. Chauncey (DD-667)
Though asbestos was a known medical risk by the time the U.S.S. Chauncey was built, there were few safeguards for crew exposed to asbestos. Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock came in for special attention, as lawsuits drew connections between asbestos use and worker and crew exposure. Other asbestos-related lawsuits described the possibility of wide and common use of asbestos on vessels of the era, such as the U.S.S. Chauncey. Yet another lawsuit proved tools used by workers might have had asbestos in their components.
Much of the asbestos risk would be made even worse if repairs were needed at sea, under treacherous conditions. Commonly crowded, cramped living and working conditions didn’t help stop a crewman from inhaling asbestos. Designed to have a crew of 273, the Chauncey’s actual complement was sometimes as high as 319. Asbestos could be present in many unexpected places, since it was used to prevent fire as well as to insulate equipment from fire or heat. Evidence later proved, however, that there had likely been insufficient attention to protecting workers from asbestos.