The Navy originally created a coaling station the Pearl Harbor Shipyard site in 1842. The United States gained permanent possession of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii through treaties in 1875, although the shipyard was slow in becoming fully functional and did not have a dry dock until 1919. The water surrounding the area was shallow and many ships became stuck and damaged within the water. In 1933, the shipyard gained government funding to widen and deepen the channel, which was completed to allow even the largest carriers through with ease by 1938.
The Japanese Navy bombed and damaged many U.S. aircraft and ships at the site on December 7, 1941. The base was originally used only for emergency repair but in 1942 became the Navy’s first line of defense during World War II and at the time had as many as 36,000 workers at the base to repair warships and naval vessels. The ship repair facilities at Pearl Harbor were reduced drastically after the end of the war. It is now known as the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base and is used primarily for work on conventional, missile-launching and nuclear submarines. There were just 4,255 employees at the base as of 1994.
Asbestos was used naval shipbuilding through at least the late 1970s. The Pearl Harbor Shipyard has always been used for ship repair rather than actual shipbuilding, which put workers at severe risk for asbestos related diseases and asbestos cancer due to working with aged, damaged and crumbling asbestos that was easily airborne. Inhaling asbestos dust is very dangerous and damaging to the lungs and body and can cause Mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer. Asbestos exposure is proven to be the cause of Mesothelioma, asbestosis and other lung cancers and diseases. If you worked at the Pearl Harbor Shipyard or another naval shipyard, you are at high risk for these diseases and should seek prompt medical advice.
Employees involved in ship repair at Pearl Harbor described work done in very small, cramped compartments and compared working conditions to a blizzard or snowstorm due to the large amount of asbestos dust. They stated they could barely see or breathe while working and were not given masks or other protective equipment. Many at the Pearl Harbor Shipyard as well as other shipyards worked as much as twelve hours per day in such conditions. Several manufacturers of asbestos products found at the Pearl Harbor Shipyard have been involved in lawsuits brought about by those that have contracted asbestos related disease including Johns-Manville, Owens-Corning, Fiberglass Corporation and Raybestos-Manhatten.
Medical experts at Mt. Sinai Medical Center estimate asbestos has killed more than 257,000 Americans since the mid 1960s and will most likely kill 151,000 more by the year 2030. Deaths are expected to reach over 400,000, which is comparable to the same levels as those killed during World War II. Even when the hazards of asbestos exposure became public, there was still no mention of the high possibility of second hand exposure for some time. Many wives and other family members of those exposed at work have also contracted and died of malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases due to contact with the highly cancerous asbestos dust that often covered workers clothing upon returning home.