The Mare Island Naval Shipyard (MINSY) operated in Vallejo, California, for nearly 150 years. Asbestos use for several decades in the shipyard led to exposure and left many workers with serious asbestos-related diseases, like mesothelioma.
Mare Island Naval Shipyard History
Founded in 1854 in California, MINSY was the first established Navy shipyard along the Pacific Ocean, according to the National Register of Historic Places.
- Shortly after opening, the shipyard began building warships. This included two of the Navy’s first submarines, the Grampus and Pike.
- Naval ship production increased at Mare Island at the beginning of World War I. The Shipyard set a speed record for building the destroyer USS Ward in 1918 in less than 18 days. The shipyard also built the USS California and USS Caldwell during World War I. Both were launched in 1919.
- During World War II, MINSY saw its biggest business boom. The shipyard built four submarine tenders, thirty-one destroyer escorts, seventeen submarines, thirty-three small craft ships, and around 300 landing craft vessels. Mare Island was one of the biggest naval facilities in the world during this time.
- 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.
- Mare Island produced its first nuclear-powered submarine in 1957. To meet the demand for such vessels, MINSY opened the Nuclear Power School. The School educated workers in the basics needed to build and work with nuclear-powered submarines. The Shipyard built its last submarine, the USS Drum, in 1970.
MINSY continued to repair submarines, but by 1993 was recommended for closure. Pearl Harbor and Puget Sound Naval Shipyards had similar but better facilities. The Shipyard officially closed in 1996 and was turned over to Vallejo for redevelopment.
How Was Asbestos Used 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, an 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.
Who Was at Risk of Asbestos Exposure at Mare Island?
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.
Asbestos and Other Contaminants Left Behind at Mare Island
After building and repairing ships for over 100 years, the Mare Island Naval Shipyard left a toxic mess after closing. The Mare Island Restoration Advisory Board faced a big task in redeveloping the area beginning in the early 2000s.
Toxic contaminants left on the site included asbestos but also oil, pesticides, heavy metals, PCBs, and more. Clean-up efforts prepared the region for commercial and industrial sites as well as natural areas such as wetlands.
What to Do if You Were Exposed to Asbestos at Mare Island
If you think you’ve been exposed to asbestos, seek medical treatment immediately. Tell a physician that you’re concerned about asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is often diagnosed late because the symptoms are similar to more common illnesses.
Next, talk to an asbestos law firm. Mesothelioma lawyers can review your case at no cost and advise you of your legal options. Victims of workplace asbestos exposure have a right to seek compensation.
If the companies that supplied Mare Island with asbestos materials are still operating, you may be able to file a lawsuit to get a settlement. If not, you could be eligible to make a claim for compensation from an asbestos trust fund.
The Department of Defense (DoD) Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission requested MINSY shut down in 1993. By 1996, the shipyard’s naval operations had officially stopped.
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.
If you or a loved one worked at Mare Island and now have mesothelioma, contact an asbestos attorney right away.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
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.