Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Virginia
The oldest shipyard in the US Navy, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, was established in 1767, although at that time it was the Gosport Shipyard. It was renamed in 1862 after the largest town in the area. It has played many important roles in US history; for example, the first naval battleship, the USS Texas, was constructed there in 1889.
The Norfolk Naval Shipyard was at its largest during World War II, when almost 43,000 people were employed there. These workers contributed greatly to the US war effort by constructing dozens of Navy ships and repairing over 6,000 more. Unfortunately, this proud history also contains tragedy. While working hard for their country, many sailors and other workers were unknowingly exposed to asbestos.
The Norfolk Naval Shipyard and Asbestos Exposure
From the 1930’s through the 1970’s, the Navy used the mineral asbestos extensively in building and repairing ships. A partial list of shipbuilding materials that often contained asbestos during those decades includes:
- Sheet metal
- Insulation for pipes and wiring
- Floor coatings
- Clutches and brakes
At the time, the average shipyard worker knew nothing about the dangers of asbestos. As a result, people took few or no precautions while sawing, welding, or otherwise working with materials that contained this mineral. This led many members of the Navy to inhale large amounts of asbestos dust, putting them at significant risk for asbestosis and mesothelioma.
The Hazards of Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos dust is composed of sharp, microscopic fibers. When it is inhaled, these fibers can collect in the lung and cause scarring. Over time, people can develop a chronic lung disease known as asbestosis, or even a form of cancer called mesothelioma. Tragically, mesothelioma is often not diagnosed until it is too late for effective treatment.
One reason for these late diagnoses is that fact that mesothelioma develops very slowly – sometimes over the course of decades. Many people who served in our Navy during World War II are only now being diagnosed with mesothelioma or related diseases. Some are choosing to take action against the negligent parties who allowed them to be exposed to this needless hazard.