Sponsored by Miss Florence Hellman, the USS S-34 (SS-139) was built by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation in 1918. After commission, it was temporarily inactive for engineering alterations. Since it operated during the heyday of asbestos, the toxic mineral might have lurked on the submarine in the form of wall insulation, putting the lives of the people who were serving on it at risk. The vessel was decommissioned in 1945, after winning one battle star during World War II.
Before the harmful effects of asbestos were well known in the scientific and manufacturing communities, Navy ships were often teeming with dangerous products; it was used to insulate boilers, incinerators, and various internal pipes. When asbestos fibers are disturbed during maintenance or repair work, they become more dangerous. Navy personnel unknowingly inhaled the fibers and became embedded in the tissue surrounding the lungs.