The Norfolk Naval Shipyard was opened in 1767, making it the oldest shipyard in the United States for ship overhaul and repair. The mission of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is to provide support to the US Naval Fleet by offering overhauling and repairing ships; logistical support; and manufacturing materials to support the repair of vessels.
From 1940-1945, the shipyard repaired more than 6,850 naval vessels. It also constructed 100 new ships and landing craft for the Fleet during WWII. It also manufactured various products that were used by naval installations and sailors in the Navy. (asbestos.com)
Toxic Landfills – A Legacy of the Norfolk Shipyard
Unfortunately, the work that the Norfolk Naval Shipyard did in its support of the war resulted in many landfills that contained asbestos-containing materials used in the repairing, conversion and overhaul process of naval vessels. (Globalsecurity.org)
For example, the Paradise Creek Landfill, active from 1945-1983, was a major disposal area for asbestos-containing materials, boiler fly, residential trash, bottom ash, and industrial wastewater treatment plant sludge. Another area that contains asbestos from the shipyard is the 1927 landfill in the southern part of the major shipyard area. It was used from 1927 until 1941.
As the oldest shipyard in the nation still in operation, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard has a history of asbestos use. The close quarters involved in building, overhauling, and repairing ships exposed many workers to asbestos, which can cause mesothelioma.
Norfolk Naval Shipyard – EPA National Priority
The asbestos contamination in the yard required the EPA to add it to the National Priorities List. In addition to the shipbuilding and repair it did, the yard also has industrial shops that are used for metal forming, repair, and installation and repair of electrical and mechanical equipment. It also has facilities for metal fabrication, metal plating, and painting.
This form of heavy industry creates large amounts of dangerous waste products, including:
- Hydraulic oils
- Cutting oils
- Used cleaners
- Plating wastes
In years past, it was common to dispose of these hazardous materials by dumping them overboard or even onto the ground. Also, before the use of the industrial waste treatment plant that opened in 1979, shop wastes were dumped untreated into local rivers. These types of practically non-existent safety practices are what led workers in Norfolk to have higher rates of mesothelioma and other serious diseases.
Norfolk Naval Shipyard workers who worked there before the 1980s were probably exposed to high levels of asbestos for years. Asbestos was the perfect substance for insulation on ships for building and repair because of its high heat resistance. It is estimated there were at least 300 asbestos products used at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard from 1930 until 1980. Asbestos was used often in these components and products:
- Steam pipes
- Gaskets and valves
- Building insulation
- Welding blankets
- Floor and ceiling tiles
- Electrical and plumbing insulation
Norfolk Has Higher Rates of Mesothelioma
A 1991 report written by Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health looked at how lo-level radiation exposure for shipyard workers who worked on nuclear propulsion plants in six facilities, one of which was Norfolk. The researchers also studied mortality from mesothelioma in these workers.
The study determined that the number of deaths from mesothelioma was small because it is such a rare type of cancer. But the incidence rate was higher than the general population of white men. Research also showed the incidence rate of asbestos cancer was higher in workers exposed to radiation than in those who were not exposed. This led the researchers to conclude that nuclear workers held more jobs with a possibility of asbestos exposure.
It has been estimated that 100,000 shipyard workers have died from mesothelioma, and some of them worked at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Sadly, many of these workers did not contract mesothelioma for many years after their work. Many died not knowing that they contracted deadly asbestos cancer from their work at the shipyard. The disease is almost always preventable if the employer that uses asbestos warns workers and has them wear proper safety gear.
Leading Asbestos Supplier Blames Navy For Exposure
In 1983, The Manville Corporation, once known as the Johns Manville Corporation, accused the US Navy of allowing excessive exposure to asbestos at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard among others. The company’s attorney states that the Navy purchased asbestos from Africa and then made money on the sale to Manville.
The attorney for Manville added that due to wartime regulations, Manville was ordered to produce many asbestos-containing products for the Navy to be used in the repair and production of ships during WWII. The company claims it was unaware of the high asbestos levels in naval shipyards.
At the time these allegations were being made, Manville was about to sue the US government for $1 million to recover compensation that it had to pay to settle many asbestos lawsuits. Manville faced 20,000 lawsuits from people demanding $40 billion in damages.
Navy Veterans File Lawsuits Against Asbestos Manufacturers
Many veterans who worked at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and other yards have turned to mesothelioma lawsuits to recover damages for their illnesses. While the US government cannot be held liable for asbestos exposure, negligent corporations and the manufacturers of asbestos-containing materials usually can. (asbestos.com)
For example, in 2011, a former ship fitter in Virginia received $25 million in a personal injury lawsuit against Exxon after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. While he was employed at Newport News Shipbuilding, the man was exposed to high levels of asbestos. He claimed Exxon knew about the risks but did not warn shipyard workers.
The Norfolk Naval Shipyard needlessly exposed thousands of workers and their families to asbestos and other dangerous toxins. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and worked there, it is recommended to talk to a mesothelioma attorney. You may be able to obtain compensation from one of the companies that provided asbestos or asbestos-containing materials to the US Navy.