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U.S.S. Edward McDonnell FF 1043 (Frigate)

U.S.S. Edward McDonnell was a Garcia class frigate, originally designated a destroyer escort and re-designated as a frigate in 1975, during the general reclassification of naval destroyers and cruisers in 1975. The ship was built at the Avondale Shipyards in Louisiana, and commissioned into the navy in 1965.

Designed and built to counter the growing threat from Soviet nuclear submarines, McDonnell would spend a large amount of its service life in the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, monitoring Soviet naval activity and providing anti-submarine warfare training for the US and friendly navies.

In 1966 and 1967, McDonnell conducted ASW patrols in the North Atlantic, followed by similar duties in the Mediterranean. The growing capability of the Soviet navy, and the steadily improving stealth and performance of their submarines, proved to be a formidable threat to both US submarine and surface ship forces. During the 1970s McDonnell frequently patrolled the North Atlantic, often working together with a nuclear attack submarine, to counter this threat.

Operations in the Mediterranean were similar, countering the incursions into that sea from the Soviet Black Sea fleet.

The Caribbean operations were usually of a training nature, with McDonnell working with US and NATO ASW assets to hone their skills. Supported by US nuclear and conventional submarines performing the roles of their Soviet counterparts, McDonnell and other frigates worked to control the rising threat of the Soviet deep water navy throughout the decade of the 1970s.

In 1975 McDonnell was entering port in Hamburg, Germany when it was rammed by a freighter, causing significant damage, including an eight-foot hole in the ship’s hull.

As the 1970s were ending, new Soviet submarines arriving in their fleet had speed and stealth capabilities that exceeded those of McDonnell and its contemporaries. Although still capable of providing detection and tracking support, the newer Soviet submarines could frequently outrun the frigates, particularly in the North Atlantic, where frequent heavy seas would impede the surface ship but have little effect on the submarine. Due to the excessive cost of maintaining the ships and the newer destroyers and frigates built for the US fleet, McDonnell was functionally obsolete by the 1980s.

Decommissioned in 1988, McDonnell was held in Philadelphia awaiting disposal until 1995, when the ship was sold to be scrapped.

Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. McDonnell

The use of asbestos in the construction of ships at US Navy shipyards and those of its many contractors was widespread in the 1960s, when Edward McDonnell was built by Avondale Shipyards. Prized for its excellent durability and its resistance to heat, asbestos was used in a number of materials, estimated at over three hundred at some shipyards. Asbestos was present in McDonnell’s boilers, used as a thermal lining to prevent excessive heat transfer from weakening the boiler and causing it to explode. Other uses included the linings for brakes and clutches, used in drive couplings and winches and capstans. Deck tiles, overhead tiles, fire protection coatings, fire dampers, valve packing, gaskets, seals, cements, epoxies and some paints all contained asbestos.

Its most prevalent use was as the insulating material for pipes and valve insulation jackets, which would be found throughout the ship. Pipes lagged with asbestos ran the length of the ship, through compartments in which berthing and eating facilities were located. If the paint covering the pipes was damaged or deteriorated, friable asbestos was exposed to the air, allowing its free distribution throughout the ship. The harsh conditions under which ships operate would ensure such deterioration, particularly in hard to reach nooks and crannies with which all ships abound, and in which such damage could remain undetected for extended periods.

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