The Mare Island Naval Shipyard (MINSY) operated in Vallejo, California, for many years. Asbestos use at the shipyard led to permanent closure and left many workers with serious, asbestos-related diseases.
Mare Island Naval Shipyard History
MINSY was founded in 1854, making it the first shipyard to establish itself along the Pacific Ocean, according to the National Register of Historic Places.
Shortly after opening, the shipyard began building warships, including the first warship ever made in the nation, called the USS Ward. The USS Ward was built just a few weeks after the start of World War I.
The shipyard also built the USS California and USS Caldwell during World War I. Both launched in 1919.
During World War II, however, MINSY saw its biggest business boom. The shipyard ended up building four submarine tenders, thirty-one destroyer escorts, seventeen submarines, thirty-three small craft ships, and around 300 landing craft vessels.
After World War II ended, MINSY became one of the main shipyards for constructing and repairing the Navy’s Pacific fleet of submarines. This was primarily because of the many submarines the shipyard built for the war.
Asbestos Use at Mare Island
While building and repairing ships, shipyard workers used asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) because asbestos was highly touted for its strong resistance to fires, ease of use, and affordability. At the time, the workers had no idea of the dangers they faced as they breathed in asbestos fibers.
“Asbestos thermal insulation had characteristics that were essential to the proper operation of turbines on Navy ships including optimum heat retention, low weight, fire resistance, resistance to water damage and insect infestation, and cost-efficiency,” a retired Rear Admiral of the Navy testified during an asbestos lawsuit against manufacturers who supplied ACMs to the military.
“Navy destroyers overall required approximately twenty-two tons of asbestos thermal insulation and Navy aircraft carriers as much as 300 tons of asbestos thermal insulation.”
Asbestos was also used in the many buildings on Mare Island, such as housing duplexes on the premises, a pipe shop, ammunition building, and more; furthermore, asbestos was used in electrical wiring, pipes, and insulation daily.
Asbestos is a toxic set of natural minerals that can cause fatal illnesses when its microscopic, odorless fibers are disturbed and inhaled or ingested. Unfortunately, asbestos fibers were disturbed every day at Mare Island, each time construction and repair happened.
Numerous types of workers at the shipyard were at risk of exposure. Boilermakers and insulation workers, in particular, were at a heightened risk of developing an asbestos-related illness. Still, others, such as pipe workers, general laborers, mechanics, carpenters, and more, were also at risk.
MINSY reportedly did not provide its workers with any safety gear that would have helped them block asbestos fibers inhalation. In fact, many naval shipyards during the time didn’t even acknowledge the hazards of asbestos.
Regardless, asbestos was and continues to be a highly toxic set of minerals. It’s impossible to determine when someone has inhaled asbestos fibers. It is also impossible for the body to get rid of them all once they attach themselves to the linings of major organs.
Over time, asbestos fibers begin to scar the linings, eventually turning into cancerous cells and tumors. In turn, diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and asbestos-related lung cancer can develop.
If you think you’ve been exposed to asbestos, seek medical treatment immediately and be sure to tell a physician that you’re concerned about asbestos exposure. Many people forgo treatment for far too long since the symptoms of mesothelioma greatly mimic more common ailments, such as the flu or a cold.
The Department of Defense (DoD) Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission requested MINSY shut down in 1993. By 1996, the shipyard’s naval operations were officially done.
Today, the area where MINSY once sat is in use by several commercial and industrial businesses. The shipyard’s property was transferred to other areas for historical purposes, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service refuge, a Department of Education school, and an Army Reserve Center.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.