U.S.S. Biddle CG 34 (Guided Missile Cruiser)
Built by Bath Iron Works in Maine and commissioned into the US Navy in January 1967, U.S.S. Biddle was Belknap class guided missile cruiser, named for Nicholas Biddle, a captain of the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War. Biddle initially served in the Pacific fleet, including several tours in Vietnam.
In 1968, Biddle completed its first deployment to Vietnam and in returning to the United States completed a circumnavigation of the globe. Biddle returned to Vietnam the following year. Upon completion of the ships several combat assignments, this time the cruiser returned home via the Panama Canal.
The pattern continued through the early 1970s, with Biddle performing fleet support duties off Vietnam before returning to Norfolk, Virginia through 1972. After extensive upkeep following this deployment, Biddle shifted its attentions to the Atlantic, operating in European waters, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.
Several Mediterranean cruises took place through the 1970s, during one of which Biddle took part in the unsuccessful search for survivors from a TWA 707 which crashed in the Ionian Sea. In 1975 the ship was overhauled extensively in the yard in which it was built. At that time Biddle, henceforth classified as a destroyer leader, was reclassified as a cruiser as part of a general reclassification of US Naval ships.
In the late 1970s, Biddle operated in the Black Sea, part of the US Navy’s response to the growing Soviet naval presence there. The early 1980s found Biddle involved in operations near Lebanon. Later in the decade, Biddle was part of the task force sent to contest Libyan denial of freedom of the seas in the Gulf of Sidra.
In the late 1980s and beyond, Biddle operated in support of operations confronting Iraq, including support of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. During the buildup of coalition forces leading to the ejection of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, Biddle stopped freighters at sea in the region to inspect cargo for contraband items as determined by the United Nations to be denied to Iraq. Ultimately Biddle stopped and searched over three dozen vessels and seized one merchant ship in accordance with international law.
Decommissioned in 1993, Biddle was retained in the mothball fleet until sold for scrapping in 2000.
Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Biddle
When U.S.S. Biddle was built, over three hundred items containing or manufactured from asbestos were commonly used in ships constructed for the US Navy. Some were required by the ship’s specifications. Boilers, of which Biddle contained four, were commonly lined with asbestos. Gaskets requiring flame resistance were manufactured from materials containing asbestos. Bulkhead linings, deck tiles, overhead tiles, brake and clutch linings, fire dampers, ventilation system components, electrical panels, wiring insulation, insulation jackets for valves and pipe insulation were all manufactured from asbestos.
Virtually any item requiring insulation from heat was manufactured from or insulated with asbestos. This included the piping that ran throughout the ship, including through areas in which the crew ate and slept. Although harmless when contained, exposed asbestos releases microscopic fibers into the atmosphere, where they are dispersed by contact with clothing, hair, skin or by the ship’s ventilation system.
Deteriorating paint or insulation itself would frequently go undetected, especially when it was located in hard to reach areas, a situation common to all ships. The amount of asbestos-containing materials alone would have made the risk of exposure to asbestos high onboard U.S.S. Biddle even under the most ideal circumstances. Biddle’s lengthy career and frequent deployments underway in extreme environmental conditions would have increased that risk.