U.S.S. Chew DD-106 (Destroyer Wickes-Class)
The History of the U.S.S. Chew:
Named for Samuel Chew, an American Revolutionary leader who was born in Connecticut. Chew attacked a much more heavily armed British frigate in 1778. To defend his ship (the Resistance), Chew led a hand-to-hand battle, in which he was mortally wounded, but the desperate fight let Resistance successfully break off the lopsided engagement, and she successfully retreated. A hundred and thirty years later, Chew was honored with the naming of the USS Chew.
Bethlehem Steel Company designed the WWI-era vessel, but eventually received criticism by comparison with the competing Bath-designed Wickes-class. Regardless of which design was used, asbestos was an essential feature of most of these vessels. By 1944, the aging U.S.S. Chew was an important part of the Pacific fleet, based in Honolulu and providing screening and escort duties. The Chew and her crew won a battle star in WWII.
Originally commissioned in 1918, the Chew was one of the 111 Fletcher-class “four stackers” of the US Navy. The U.S.S. Chew was hurriedly brought back into WWII service. The US Navy desperately needed the vessel and her crew to be flexible. This reflected the aging Chew’s need for more frequent repairs. As experts later pointed out, an aging vessel also probably meant more asbestos exposure.
Asbestos uses were shown to have been used and caused unfortunate results decades later. One lawsuit profiled the asbestos in mechanical pumps commonly (but not always) used by vessels like the Chew’s shipyard (Union Iron Works).
Repairs and Upgrades
To help fight the Axis, the Chew was recommissioned for four years, from 1940 to 1945. That she was desperately needed was shown by her recommissioning, a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. And the Chew was actually in Pearl when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941. One of the few US vessels getting into action, her crew splashed a number of attacking Japanese planes.
During her five years of heavy service, the Chew was extensively redesigned. Almost certainly, this restructuring meant exposing literally tons of asbestos. Gone were three of the Chews original stacks, and the installation of new engines and turbines. Experts noted the asbestos was especially prominent in engine use. Many years later, it seemed that the health costs of these structural changes, to vessels like the Chew, had a long-lasting effect, with possible asbestos-related illnesses appearing, decades later.
Asbestos Risks On the U.S.S. Chew (DD-106)
The asbestos risks on vessels such as the Chew, historians pointed out, came from some unexpected sources. Few crew members learned of the real dangers of using so much asbestos, even as many crew members later described how they often must have breathed in asbestos fibers, on a US Naval vessel similar to the U.S.S. Chew. Asbestos was a leading material for handling ship fires or explosions, as well as in controlling engine temperatures. Asbestos was also a preferred material inside of many types of machinery common to vessel such as the Chew, from radar and even to hull insulation over bunks. By the end of the War in the Pacific, the Chew (along with its potential asbestos hazards) was sold to an unknown shipping business.
By the start of WWII, the US Navy and most shipyards had shared with each other some of the known risks of asbestos. Decades later, as symptoms related to asbestos became obvious, the US Navy finally began to fix its asbestos use policy. But these changes in using asbestos came too late for courageous crews, such as those who served so well on the U.S.S. Chew.