Superior Shipyard Reaches Settlement With Worker Over Lead Exposure

2017 Report Found Majority Of Workers Exposed To Unsafe Lead Levels

Fraser Shipyards
Fraser Shipyards has been building ships in Superior since 1890. 
Danielle Kaeding/WPR

One worker has settled a lawsuit against Fraser Shipyards in Superior after workers were exposed to unsafe lead levels while working on a Great Lakes freighter. The lawsuit was one of four brought on behalf of 44 workers against the northern Wisconsin shipbuilder.

Welder James Holder sued Fraser Shipyards after blood tests confirmed he had blood lead levels more than seven times what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers unsafe, according to a 2016 complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. Holder claimed the shipyard failed to protect workers despite past lead safety violations in 1993.

A report by Wisconsin and Minnesota health officials released in 2017 showed 171 out of 233 workers tested had blood lead poisoning.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Holder reached a confidential settlement in late April with the shipyard, its parent company Capstan Corp. and the ship’s owner Interlake Steamship Company.

Holder’s attorney Matthew Sims with the Chicago-based Rapoport Law Offices declined to comment on the settlement because of the three other pending lawsuits. Fraser Shipyards’ spokesman Rob Karwath also declined to comment under terms of the settlement.

Fraser agreed to pay the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) a $700,000 fine in 2017 without admitting fault or liability after the agency cited them for 14 violations related to lead exposure.

The company has been meeting requirements of that settlement agreement, said OSHA spokeswoman Rhonda Burke. The agency said the shipyard notifies OSHA about labor contracts, tests for heavy metals, requires workers to wear air respirators and conducts independent health and safety audits.

The company has said it’s put a safety program in place that includes protective gear, breathing equipment and suits to enhance safety. The shipyard has a seasonal workforce of about 190 employees, and it has been building and maintaining ships in Superior since the shipyard was founded in 1890.

Editor’s note: This story was last updated at 2:45 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.