The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard was first created as a naval station in 1891 and is located in Bremerton, Washington. It is known as the most versatile shipyard and covers 327 dry land acres and an additional 338 acres under water. It was originally used just for ship repair, but in World War I the shipyard began constructing new naval vessels. The US Navy also began to store vessels here at this time as well. It is still the homeport of many of the Navy’s ships and also houses a large amount of retired ships.
The main duty of the shipyard during World War II was repairing battleships damaged from the war effort. Ship reconstruction started at the time of the Korean War and new vessel construction continued. The building of new ships ended in 1979, and today the shipyard is mainly used for the overhaul of submarines and carriers. The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard also offers technical and logistic support to the Navy and is involved in ship maintenance and modernization.
asbestos was once widely used in Navy shipbuilding for many years, and thousands of Navy veterans were exposed in the shipyards, including at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The type of work done in the construction, repair and overhaul of vessels causes a large amount of asbestos dust to become airborne. The inhalation of this dust puts all shipyard workers at high risk of developing asbestos related diseases that can include several different illnesses, including the rare form of asbestos cancer known as mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly form of cancer, and asbestos exposure has been proven to be the cause. The Navy continued to use asbestos is shipbuilding until the late 1970s.
A study by the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Industrial Hygiene Division authored and released in March of 1970 spent two and a half years examining and comparing x-rays of their shipyard workers. At the end of the study, they found that 21% of former pipe coverers and insulators had pulmonary abnormalities. This occurred even though workers were also supposedly working in conditions in which exposure was under accepted safe limits. It’s hard to say how many additional workers from this study have or still will develop disease as it can taken ten, twenty or even many more years to develop.
There is promising new technology that may prove to help in asbestos cleanup. In 1999, ARI Technologies was awarded funding to demonstrate their high temperature conversion system. They contend that this system changes 100% of asbestos into safe and non-hazardous material. The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard was chosen as the site for demonstration. The Environmental Protection Agency has already approved their similar method for destruction of PCBs. An independent testing company is being used to track the efficiency of the system.
Although new technologies and research are promising, this does not change the fact that thousands of Navy personnel were exposed to asbestos, and therefore the diseases that this can lead to – such as asbestosis or malignant mesothelioma- in naval shipyard throughout their careers. Many have already died and a large number will continue to contract and die from asbestos related diseasesfor many years to come. If you’ve ever worked in a naval shipyard, including at Puget Sound, be sure to alert you doctor and receive prompt medical advice and screenings.