Based out of Charleston, South Carolina, the Charleston Naval Shipyard made many military contributions, including over 25,000 civilian workers during World War II alone. The ships, however, were constructed with asbestos, leaving many workers with life-threatening diseases.
About Charleston Naval Shipyard
Charleston Naval Shipyard had a booming business for many years. For decades, the shipyard built vessels for the U.S. Navy. World War II was the shipyard’s most productive time period. When the war finished, the shipyard focused its efforts on overhauling submarines.
When the Korean War began, Charleston Naval Shipyard began constructing vessels again. After the Vietnam War, production slowed considerably. By 1996, the shipyard closed permanently.
As a shipbuilding operation, the shipyard created destroyers, cruisers, attack submarines, FBM submarines, submarine tenders, and several cruisers.
The shipyard’s largest destroyers created were the USS Bryce Canyon and the USS Tidewater.
Asbestos At Charleston Naval Shipyard
Asbestos was once a huge part of the shipbuilding and repair business. Almost all shipyards once relied on asbestos because of its extreme resistance to heat and fire, affordability, and ease of use.
Asbestos use continued at shipyards until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed strict regulations on its use. However, by that time, thousands of ship workers had already been exposed to the dangerous set of minerals for years.
At Charleston Naval Yard, boilermakers, insulation installers, engineers, general laborers, carpenters, and more were breathing in toxic asbestos fibers each time they went to work. Before the EPA’s regulations, the military reportedly knew of asbestos dangers but did nothing to stop manufacturers from shipping in asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
According to a 2016 report by the Post and Courier, asbestos-related mortality rates in Charleston are two times higher than the state average and even higher than the national average. The high asbestos-related deaths in the city have been linked to the high amounts of asbestos used at the shipyard.
According to Alex Formuzis, the vice president of the Environmental Working Group Action Fund (EWG), around twenty-nine people per year in Charleston die from asbestos illnesses. Formuzis doesn’t think these numbers will decline.
“We don’t anticipate the number of Americans who die every year from asbestos to decline anytime soon.”
In 2006, South Carolina lawmakers passed a law that helped expedite asbestos court hearings for people diagnosed with asbestos diseases, such as malignant mesothelioma; however, even with the new law, mesothelioma cases remain complicated, creating the need for highly-qualified asbestos lawyers to step in and assist.
For those who can’t wait, asbestos trust funds are available to qualified people. The trust fund allows people to settle faster, and in turn, get paid quicker. Asbestos trust funds are available in South Carolina and most states in the nation.
Asbestos fibers, when disturbed, are easily ingested or inhaled. Since the fibers are tiny and odorless, people have no idea when they’ve breathed them in or swallowed them. Over time, the fibers lodge inside the system and attach themselves to the linings of major organs.
The linings can eventually become scarred, leading to cancerous cells, tumors, and fatal illnesses. Mesothelioma currently has no cure. To make matters worse, it usually isn’t diagnosed until the disease has progressed to the later stages since symptoms generally do not surface until up to fifty years later.
Charleston Naval Shipyard Today
It’s been more than twenty years since the Charleston Naval Shipyard closed its doors. After closing, the government decided to use the area for different purposes. For instance, the Admiral’s House became a bed and breakfast, and Quarters H and I were developed into an office space.
Dozens of areas have been and are still in the process of being redeveloped at the shipyard, with the northern end still being a “work in progress,” a 2019 report by the Post and Courier said.
Of course, the redevelopment is costing a lot of money for the city, and there are still questions lingering on how successful the completed redevelopment will be.
Dr. Michael Touchton, a professor and co-author of the book Salvaging Community: How American Cities Rebuild Closed Military Bases, told the outlet that there is no simple solution on what will be successful and what may not work with the redevelopment; however, he said areas created for the public, such as parks and museums, will likely do well.
“That represents more or less the high end of what communities can hope for, at least on this timeline,” Touchton said. “The trajectory looks good. There’s more that needs to be done, of which you’re obviously aware.”
Regardless of how well the new establishments do, there is no way to replace all the jobs that the shipyard once offered, Touchton added. 
“The jobs on former bases never return to the level the military had when they were at peak employment. There is no case I know of where redevelopment has succeeded in replacing the jobs fully.” 
Complaints also began pouring in from residents of nearby neighborhoods. Residents are worried that redeveloping the site could expose them to harmful substances, such as asbestos.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control did an air sampling when the redevelopment project began to make sure local areas were safe.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.