The Washington Navy Yard in Washington D.C. is one of the oldest military installations in the U.S. as the first shore establishment for the U.S. Navy. The Navy Yard relied on asbestos for years, which contributed to asbestos exposure and illnesses like mesothelioma in service members and civilian workers.
A History of Washington Navy Yard
Washington Navy Yard has a very long history, beginning with the purchase of the land for the land in 1799. The purchase was completed as an Act of Congress. The original purpose of the yard was for shipbuilding, which began in the early 1800s.
For a long time, the Washington Navy Yard was the country’s largest shipbuilding facility. It played a crucial role in the War of 1812, both for ships and as a strategic center. The U.S. ultimately burned the facility to avoid it falling into British hands.
The Navy Yard was also important during the Civil War. It defended the capital and made important repairs, including to the USS Monitor, after doing battle with the CSS Virginia.
In addition to ships, Washington Navy Yard served as a munitions and naval ordnance plant. It became the sole manufacturer of Navy ordnance in 1866.
Manufacturing remained the focus of the yard through World War II. After the war, it became an administrative center but still produced munitions and was renamed the U.S. Naval Gun Factory.
Industrial manufacturing at the plant ceased almost entirely by the early 1960s when it once again received a new name: the Washington Navy Yard. The yard was solely an administrative center, and the plants had to be converted to office space from this point on.
Today it houses the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, and the Naval Historical Center. The Washington Navy Yard was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
How Was Asbestos Used at the Washington Navy Yard?
Although shipyards are among the worst contributors to asbestos exposure, shipbuilding at the Washington Navy Yard ended before widespread use. The site continued as a manufacturing facility through the early 1960s, though, which means asbestos was an issue in other ways.
The site primarily served as a plant for the production of weapons. This required the use of equipment that produced a lot of heat and could potentially spark fires. Workers would have been protected with safety gear made with asbestos.
The furnaces, boilers, and other machinery, not to mention insulation and materials used in the ceilings, walls, flooring, and some of the weapons themselves, would also have contained asbestos. Asbestos can resist heat and fire, so it was used in many industrial applications for decades, particularly from World War II through the 1960s.
How Did Asbestos at Washington Navy Yard Harm Veterans and Workers?
Any workers at Washington Navy Yard during years of peak asbestos use (the 1930s through 1970s) could have been exposed to asbestos.
Those at the site who handled asbestos materials directly were at the most significant risk of exposure. Anyone who conducted maintenance and repairs of the equipment, on the insulation, or even in the area of these work activities also had a higher risk of being exposed to asbestos.
The risk was to both military and civilian workers. Some of the Navy Yard jobs at the greatest risk of asbestos exposure included:
- Repair and maintenance workers
- Machine operators
Superfund Listing and Cleanup
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry investigated and designated the Washington Navy Yard a Superfund site in 1998.
This designation meant that it was contaminated with toxic substances that required a massive cleanup. Asbestos was just one of many dangerous toxins on the site.
Government agencies found water and soil contamination at seventeen different sites in the area. The federal government began cleaning the site. Some of the cleanup activities included:
- Removal of contaminants from the sewer system and stormwater pipes
- Removal action at the former Coal Storage Yard
- Cleaning of the sump from Building 118
- Abatement in Admiral’s Row housing
- Further evaluations of other sites and buildings
How to Seek Compensation After Asbestos Exposure at Washington Navy Yard
If you worked at the Washington Navy Yard and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may have a legal case and be able to recover damages.
Talk with a Washington D.C. mesothelioma lawyer to find out what you can do next to seek justice. A lawyer will help you decide your next steps and what your rights are in this situation.
One option might be to file a lawsuit against asbestos companies that supplied shipyards with materials. If those companies went bankrupt, you might be eligible for an asbestos trust fund claim. It’s important to act quickly to ensure you get your opportunity to seek justice.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.