U.S.S. Wainwright CG-28 (Destroyer Leader, Guided Missile Frigate)

Built originally as a destroyer leader, a large class destroyer meant to serve as a command ship for a destroyer squadron, U.S.S. Wainwright was converted to a guided missile frigate and commissioned in 1966. Its early operations were near Boston, where the ship was built by the Boston Naval Shipyard. In May of 1966 the ship relocated to its homeport of Charleston, South Carolina.

In 1967, Wainwright deployed to the western Pacific where it assumed its duties in Vietnamese waters. The ship provided air defense for the fleet and gunfire support against targets ashore, returning to Charleston late in the year. The ship would return to Vietnamese operations in 1968 and 1970, earning four battle stars for its combat service.

The 1970s were spent operating in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, participating in NATO readiness exercises, show the flag operations in the volatile Middle East and serving as flagship for the International Naval Review and Operation Sail, naval events commemorating the Bicentennial of the United States in 1976.

The early part of the 1980s was spent in similar pursuits, with the ship alternating deployments with maintenance periods in Charleston and elsewhere. In 1988, while Wainwright was deployed in the western Mediterranean, Iranian forces mined the Persian Gulf, nearly sinking the U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts.

In retaliation, US naval forces, including Wainwright, engaged Iranian naval forces in the largest surface engagement since World War II. Two Iranian warships were sunk, and several speedboats, used for high-speed attacks were destroyed. The US forces also shelled an Iranian oil platform, which had been armed to attack passing ships with gunfire and missiles.

Partially because of improvements in shipboard missiles which Wainwright was unable to carry, and partially due to the increasing costs of maintaining and operating the ship, Wainwright was decommissioned in late 1993 and placed in reserve. Wainwright was sunk in a joint US/UK training exercise, in which the ship was struck by surface-launched missiles, a submarine-launched torpedo, and multiple air strikes before being scuttled by explosive charges installed aboard.

Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Wainwright

Although the dangers of asbestos were well known by the early 1960s, and procedures for its safe handling established, its use in the construction of ships was not abated. Due to its excellent heat resistance properties, asbestos was highly regarded as an insulation material.

In this application, asbestos was used to line ships boilers, a procedure that had actually been mandated by law after boiler explosions in the early twentieth century. Other uses included insulation for electric wiring and distribution panels, in the linings for clutches and brakes, (used in capstans and winches aboard ship, amongst other applications) and, predominantly in ships, as insulation for pipes and valves.

Insulation manufactured from asbestos cloth covered pipes throughout the ship, in spaces used for berthing and dining as well as repair shops and offices. Although the insulation was painted, which would contain the asbestos, where the paint or the insulation itself deteriorated asbestos fibers would have been released into the air. In the thousands of nooks and crannies aboard any ship, especially one crowded with specialized military equipment, such deterioration could frequently go undetected for months, or even years.

When asbestos abatement efforts began in the late 1970s, it was determined that asbestos lagging would only be replaced if necessitated by other maintenance and repair. Ships contemporary to Wainwright have been scrapped with the ship breakers reporting tons of asbestos materials remaining onboard. It is highly unlikely that Wainwright would be an exception.

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