Lyon Shipyard, Inc., established in 1928, is a privately owned Virginia ship building, refurbishing, refitting and repair facility. It is located on the northern and southern shores of the eastern branch of the Elizabeth River and does extensive contract business with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army, Military Sealift Command, Maritime Administration and NOAA, as well as working with commercial tugs and barges.
The buy-out of G.T. Taylor Marine Railway by a group of partners, including Guy H. Moon and George C. Lyon, Sr., provided the initial impetus of Lyon Shipyard. Moon sold his interests approximately ten years later and in the late 1950’s, Lyon, Sr. bought out the remaining partners and became the sole owner of the shipyard. He remained with the company until his death in 1977, at which time his son, George C. Lyon, Jr., became president.
Over the past thirty years, Lyon Shipyard has steadily grown. In 1977, Lyon, Jr. bought out their main competitor, Craig Brothers Marine Railway, effectively doubling Lyon’s land and waterfront property holdings. He changed the name from Moon Shipyard and Repair to Lyon Shipyard in 1981. Early in 2007, Lyon announced their plan to buy out their next door neighbor, Norfolk Shiprepair & Drydock Co. which would give them even more work and dockside space.
However, not everything in Lyon Shipyard’s recent and more distant history has reflected a positive direction. In 1998, city inspectors witnessed thick clouds of paint chips and sandblast grit floating in the air and water surrounding the shipyard. This type of material is often blasted from hulls in preparation for repair work and can contain toxic substances. Virginia requires that shipyards place plastic tarps and filter cloths to catch any residue before it hits the water. Although aware of this requirement, Lyon did not do so and was ultimately fined $26,000 by state and local authorities, including $6,000 to the city of Norfolk to settle criminal charges against the company.
Previously, in 1995, Lyon paid $2,000 in civil damages for illegally using a dry dock abandoned by the bankrupt Virginia Dry Dock Corp. It was ordered at that time to discontinue releasing industrial waste into the waterways until it obtained the proper permits, to upgrade the abandoned dry dock facility to meet state regulations and to cease adding the pesticide TBT to boat paint.
Lyon Shipyard has had other instances in its history of deficiency in environmental and worker safety. During World War II, the shipyard worked extensively on naval and military vessels. Because of its fire- and heat-resistant properties, asbestos was used in over 298 common products found on those ships and was used to insulate boilers, steam and hot water piping and incinerators. From the 1940’s through the 1970’s, many Lyon workers were exposed to large amounts of asbestos while doing ship repair, maintenance and refitting. Because there was poor understanding of the impact of asbestos on the human body at the time, workers did not wear masks or any type of protection.
Generally, asbestos related diseases such as asbestosis or mesothelioma do not do not display symptoms until thirty years or more after initial exposure. Current studies reveal that malignant mesothelioma around the Lyon Shipyard area occurs at more than seven times the national rate and workers employed 20 or more years at the shipyard have an 86% chance of developing asbestosis, another asbestos related disease, or an asbestos cancer.
In the region surrounding Lyon Shipyard, more than 15,000 cases of asbestos-related illness have been reported. While the majority of lawsuits are settled under a confidentiality clause, it is predicted that total compensation to local yard workers will be in the range of $1 billion.