The New London Naval Submarine Base, New London (referred to as the SUBASE NLON) is located on the Thames River in the Groton, Connecticut area. The Thames River opens into the New London Harbor in the Long Island Sound.
The history of the base dates back to a land grant of 112 acres made by Connecticut to the US Navy in 1868. Four years later, the earliest version of the base was built as a naval yard. At first, the base was largely used as a coaling station for naval ships stationed in the Atlantic. It became a submarine base in 1916, housing the Ozark, four submarines and a submarine tender (a ship that supports submarines, carrying supplies that it then delivers to the submarine). After World War I, training and education facilities were established on the base as well. In 1954, the USS Nautilus – the nation’s first nuclear-powered submarine – took off from the base. Today, this submarine can be viewed by the public as a National Historic Landmark. By 1959, the base had emerged as the world’s largest submarine base.
The US Navy trains all of its submariners at the New London Naval Submarine Base, New London. Twenty one submarines and nuclear research submarines are housed at this base. In its current form, the base covers 680 acres and consists of more than 400 buildings. Over 20,000 active duty soldiers, civilian employees and their families can be accommodated in the base’s housing facilities. Commands stationed on the base include the Commander Submarine Group Two and the Naval Submarine Support Facility. In 2005, the Department of Defense recommended that the Naval Submarine Base, New London be closed as part of a wave of base closings. However, upon review, this recommendation was reversed and the base remains open today.
Asbestos was widely used at the base, as it was at many shipbuilding facilities and industrial sites. A naturally occurring mineral, asbestos has cloth-like qualities and is resistant to both fire and heat. These characteristics and versatility led to its popularity in many industrial processes. Asbestos exposure occurs when particles, or fibers, of asbestos become airborne and are inhaled or swallowed. These fibers then lodge in an individual’s body (e.g. in the lungs or the abdomen) and, fifteen to fifty years after exposure, can lead to respiratory conditions including lung cancer, mesothelioma (A rare and particularly deadly form of asbestos cancer), asbestosis and pleural effusions.
Asbestos exposure is considered the leading cause of mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer that grows on the mesothelium, a membrane which encloses many of the body’s internal organs, including the lungs. There are several types of mesothelioma: pleural mesothelioma, which affects the chest wall; peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the abdominal lining; pericardial mesothelioma, which is rarer and affects the sac surrounding the heart; and tunica vaginalis mesothelioma, which is quite rare and affects the tissue surrounding the testis in males. Mesothelioma treatment includes radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery or experimental therapies such as immunotherapy. While these treatments may slow the progression of the disease and ease symptoms, they are not considered curative.
According to records kept by the US Navy, over 289 products that contained asbestos were commonly used in the shipbuilding process. Although the significant risks of asbestos exposure were known by the 1920’s, most industries and employers, including the US Navy, either withheld this information or were slow to act on it. The US Navy imposed a ban on asbestos usage in 1973, but continued to use the substance for several years after this date. Most uses of asbestos were banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1989.