Asbestos Exposure at the San Diego Naval Shipyard

The San Diego Naval Shipyard, also known as the Naval Base San Diego, is one of the United States Navy’s most important shipyards, sitting on nearly 100 acres of land. The shipyard currently holds dozens of military ships. The investigation of contamination of asbestos and other hazards began in the 1980s.

Aircraft carrier near the San Diego Naval Shipyard.

History of the San Diego Naval Shipyard in California

The first push for permanent Naval operations in southern California occurred around 1914. At the time, conflicts with Mexico drove the U.S. to organize the 4th Regiment unit in San Diego. The regiment formed at Puget Sound and Mare Island under the command of Colonel Joseph H. Pendleton. At the time, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, chose the sites of military camps throughout the area. By 1915, the military purchased a permanent base (what would be known as the San Diego Naval Shipyard) consisting of 232 acres along the San Diego Bay for about $250,000.

Construction on the first permanent dry dock finished in 1921. The base was officially completed in 1922 as a U.S. Destroyer Base. During World War II, operations at the base exceeded its function and expanded to provide logistical support. The large naval presence in San Diego made it a target for bombing by Japan, as part of its effort to disrupt U.S. supply lines, as well as for high-altitude air attacks during World War II.

Now known as the Naval Base San Diego, the San Diego Naval Shipyard became the home port of the U.S. Pacific Navy Fleet in the 1990s after the closure of the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. Today, its primary mission is to maintain ships for U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet operations.

History of Asbestos Exposure at California Shipyard

For much of the 20th century, exposure to asbestos on military and commercial ships occurred. Asbestos was once used in thousands of commercial and industrial applications, including brake pads, boiler insulation, ceiling and floor tiles, and drywall joint compound. Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals that can be woven into cloth or mixed with other materials to form heat-resistant products. Exposure to the mineral is most dangerous when fibers are airborne; prolonged inhalation can lead to health problems such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other related diseases.

The military was among one of America’s biggest consumers of asbestos-containing products, especially the Navy. This is because amphibious warships and naval ships must be resistant to both fire and flooding, which makes asbestos a viable option for use in machinery, power plants, and boilers. Asbestos use in military products continued well into the mid-1900s, despite warnings from both scientific and medical communities that asbestos was dangerous. Despite these concerns, manufacturers often removed asbestos from some products but left it in others, and sometimes added it to new products.

At least 240 known shipyards were active during World War II, including the San Diego base. Each used thousands of tons of asbestos products, which were almost always tightly woven into materials. This made them more durable, but also difficult to remove once they had been installed. Soldiers and shipyard workers who installed or maintained these materials often breathed in dangerous levels of asbestos fibers daily.

Asbestos was used in ship construction at the San Diego Naval base from the late 1800s until the end of World War II. However, the danger of asbestos exposure did not become apparent until the 1960s and 1970s, when many shipyard workers developed asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma as a result of their exposure to asbestos on the job. Members in all military branches, including marine veterans, risked coming into contact with asbestos.

Veterans who worked at the San Diego Naval Shipyard may be eligible for VA compensation. To find out if you qualify, speak with a patient advocate today.

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A woman prepares a salad, an assortment of fruit, and bananas for her son and veteran husband..

San Diego Shipyard Workers and Veterans at Risk

For decades, toxic substances were deposited on-site and contaminated groundwater near San Diego, Navy barracks, and other points of access. These substances included petroleum products, solvents, pesticides, metals, and asbestos. Many veterans who were employed at either of these bases during their active duty may have been exposed to asbestos while working on ships and aircraft. The two main categories of workers who are most at risk of asbestos exposure are Navy shipbuilders and welders, as well as Coast Guard veterans who served on certain vessels.

The use of asbestos was widespread in naval vessels and shipyards until its use was limited by OSHA in 1978. Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used frequently on ships, tanks, and submarines constructed during World War II. The Navy began phasing out ACMs on ships in 1973 and continued using less dangerous materials. The Navy also phased out most types of asbestos insulation on both military and civilian ships between 1973 and 1992.

United States Coast Guard (USGC) used asbestos-containing materials in many ships, including cutters.

Present Day Activities at the California Naval Shipyard

Cleanup activities have been implemented since 2000 to reduce groundwater contamination in accordance with EPA cleanup standards. The Navy addressed the contamination through various remediation actions including soil removal, capping of soils, excavation and disposal of impacted soils, installation of barriers to prevent migration of contaminants into off-site water bodies, and treatment or removal of contaminated groundwater via wells installed by Navy contractors. The area is now considered safe for recreation, although occupational asbestos exposure still occurs when workers come into contact with old ships.

Related: Brooklyn Naval Yard Facts and Information

How Can I Find a Mesothelioma Attorney in San Diego?

After you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it’s likely that you’ll want to look into a personal injury lawsuit against any individuals or corporations deemed responsible for your illness. Fortunately, locating a mesothelioma attorney in San Diego is an easy task. All you have to do is type mesothelioma lawyer San Diego into your browser and begin searching, or access one by completing a free case evaluation.

Legal options for mesothelioma patients vary but working with an experienced attorney helps victims recover as much compensation as they need. If you decide to move forward with a mesothelioma lawsuit, your compensation will depend on o several factors.  For example, if you were exposed to asbestos prior to being diagnosed with mesothelioma and can prove that those asbestos exposures occurred due to someone else’s negligence, you could possibly receive compensation for your losses related to medical bills, lost wages from missed work, pain and suffering from your illness, and more.

Not sure if your VA benefits will cover the costs of cancer or if your cancer center will have sufficient treatment? Common mesothelioma myths and misconceptions can be confusing, but we’re here to uncover the truth.