History of Asbestos Use at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard
Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is not just a naval base, it is a sacred site of historical significance for the United States. On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack that brought the US into World War II. The shipyard, located in a lagoon six miles west of Honolulu, has since been rebuilt and expanded, but the memory of that fateful day lives on. For veterans of the Pearl Harbor bombing, visiting the shipyard can be a powerful and emotional experience, as they pay homage to their fallen comrades and reflect on the sacrifices made in defense of their country.
When Pearl Harbor became the target of a surprise attack by the Japanese in 1941, over 2,000 people tragically lost their lives that day. In the following months, another 10,000 were exposed to asbestos and other cancer-causing materials. Asbestos, a mineral known for its heat resistance, was used in insulation and fire-proofing materials on navy ships and buildings.
The risks associated with asbestos exposure were not fully understood until lawmakers intervened in the 1970s. Thousands of individuals working in shipyards, including those at Pearl Harbor, were unknowingly exposed to asbestos during their service. Civilians or service members previously exposed to asbestos at shipyards remain at risk of developing cancer.
Today, the site is a National Historic Landmark and an active military base. Parts of Pearl Harbor are on the Environmental Protection Agency’s listed Superfund sites. This means thousands of acres of nearby land and water remain contaminated with hazardous waste and metals.
Asbestos Exposure at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard
The military began using asbestos in the 1930s for various reasons, including its low cost, high availability, and heat-resisting abilities. The carcinogen can be found in various applications on ships, including insulation for boilers, pipes, gaskets, and valves. Additional asbestos-containing materials were used in paints, solvents, aircraft parts, and lubricants. Shipyard employees and military veterans faced direct exposure to asbestos while at Pearl Harbor.
When damaged or handled wrong, tiny airborne asbestos fibers can be inhaled or ingested, potentially leading to serious health conditions, such as mesothelioma. Asbestos-related cancer symptoms often appear after disease progression, 20 to 50 years after initial exposure. The late onset of symptoms limits treatment options for most patients.
The Pearl Harbor attack destroyed or heavily damaged 16 of the 100 commissioned warships and auxiliary ships present that morning. Some of the damaged Navy ships include:
- USS Arizona (total loss)
- USS West Virginia
- USS Oklahoma (total loss)
- USS California
- USS Yorktown
- USS Utah (total loss)
- USS Tennessee
- USS Shaw
- USS Sotoyomo
- USS Cassin
- USS Downes
- USS Oglala
Battleships, destroyers, aircraft carriers, submarines, and auxiliary crafts were repaired or overhauled in the months following the attack. During the overhaul and repair process, Navy and Coast Guard workers handled both new and damaged asbestos-containing materials.
Pearl Harbor Shipyard Workers and Asbestos Risks
Various occupational roles at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard involved direct or indirect contact with asbestos between the 1930s and the 1980s. Some shipyard occupations that frequently handled asbestos-containing materials include:
- Hull Technicians: Hull Technicians in the Navy or Marines were responsible for ship construction, maintenance, and repairs.
- Boilermakers: Boilermakers operated, repaired, and maintained boilers aboard naval vessels, where asbestos insulation was commonly used.
- Pipefitters: Pipefitters worked on installing and maintaining piping systems throughout ships and Coast Guard Cutters, which were common places for asbestos insulation.
- Damage Controlmen: Damage Controlmen were responsible for emergency response, firefighting, and damage control aboard ships. They may have encountered asbestos-containing fireproofing materials.
- Engine Room Personnel: Personnel working in the engine rooms of naval vessels, such as Machinists and Enginemen, were exposed to asbestos components.
- Electricians: Electricians installed and repaired electrical systems onboard ships, where insulation was used around the wiring.
Handling asbestos-containing materials during the construction and repair of ships inadvertently exposed workers to harmful asbestos fibers while in confined spaces.
Hawaii Mesothelioma Lawyer for Shipyard Workers
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