The 622-foot ship was built in Camden, New Jersey during World War II. The ship, an independence-class light aircraft carrier with hull number CVL-24, was commissioned in 1943. With almost 1,600 men aboard, it sailed at Pearl Harbor right before the attack, but it never got involved in it. The USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) was decommissioned in 1947.
The contamination with asbestos happened because of the manufacturers who used asbestos within 1930 and 1970 to build the equipment on board. The most dangerous places on the ship were the boilers and the engine rooms because of the poor ventilation combined with the high concentration of asbestos used to build the equipment.