U.S.S. Epperson DD 719 (Destroyer)
U.S.S. Epperson was a Gearing class destroyer, built during the Second World War by the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in Kearny, New Jersey. Launched in late 1945, after the hostilities were ended, Epperson was transferred to the Bath Iron Works in Maine in 1948, reclassified as DDE 719, and completed and launched in 1949.
After shakedown exercises, drilling its crew in anti-submarine warfare operations, Epperson joined the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and conducted routine peacetime operations until the opening of the Korean War. Its two tours of duty in Korean Waters found Epperson conducting screening operations for the carrier groups operating in support of United Nations forces. Epperson provided gunfire support on several occasions and engaged shore batteries in Wonsan Harbor. Epperson was awarded five battle stars for its services in Korea.
Post conflict found Epperson patrolling in the Marshall Islands during hydrogen bomb testing. Late in 1954, the ship completed its first deployment to the western Pacific, a mission it would perform annually for the next seven years. In 1962 it was returned to the designation of DD 719.
Epperson performed various duties in the Pacific throughout the nineteen-sixties, serving as a screening vessel for aircraft carriers, refueling helicopters and providing gunfire support in Vietnamese waters. Additional duties the destroyer performed included anti-submarine patrol, operating with the Taiwanese navy, smuggling interdiction and search and rescue operations. Epperson fired several thousand five-inch rounds during its multiple deployments to Vietnam.
In 1973, Epperson was transferred to Seattle and assumed the role of a Naval Reserve training ship. Training cruises and goodwill visits became its new standard of operations. Epperson was decommissioned and stricken from the naval register in 1976 and after a period in mothballs sold to the Pakistani navy. After several years of additional service to that nation, it was sunk as a target in 2000.
Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Epperson
During its construction, and throughout its operational career, asbestos materials were used throughout Epperson, due to the need to prevent and contain shipboard fires, as well as to protect equipment and personnel from excessive heat. Pipes wrapped with asbestos insulation ran through every compartment within the ship, including berthing spaces and dining areas. Everyday operations causing vibrations throughout the ship would cause the naturally deteriorating insulation to release asbestos particles in the form of dust, which the ships ventilation system would then distribute freely around the vessel. The firing of large naval guns causes severe vibrations; Epperson fired thousands of rounds from its five-inch guns during its operational service, both in training and in combat.
Boilers, turbines, deck tiles, between deck insulation, electrical wiring, and junctions, gaskets and seals, all contained asbestos. Firefighting equipment and fire curtains, meant to prevent a fire from spreading through bulkheads, were asbestos-laden. Epperson spent its entire 26 years of service with the US Navy prior to the commencement of asbestos abatement procedures.