Cascade General Shipyard
Portland, Oregon is home to the largest ship repair facility on the entire West Coast, the Cascade General Shipyard. Cascade General was not the original owner of this site. It was opened in 1942 as the Portland Shipyard, and leased out until 1987 when Cascade General became the only contractor operating at the yard.
During World War II, large Liberty Class naval vessels were produced at the Portland Shipyard to aid in the effort. After the war, the facility expanded when the nearby Kaiser Shipyard was purchased and added on. At that point 3 large contractors operated at the Portland Shipyard, Dillingham Ship Repair, Willamette Iron and Steel Corp., and Northwest Marine Iron Inc., and together they worked diligently to expand the facility.
Though the yard had done well for years, by the 1980's it began to lose business, largely due to the ever growing oil crisis. As conditions worsened, the existing contractors started to drop out, leaving the site wide open for Cascade to take it over completely. The new owner expanded their area of operation and once again made the Portland plant a great success. Cascade was, however, forced to deal with a serious issue that had plagued the Portland Shipyard for years: the use of asbestos.
Asbestos is a mineral that is found abundantly all over the country, and became the backbone for many different products including insulation and paint that was used on large vessels. It had many beneficial qualities, but was also eventually found to be poisonous. Exposure to the mineral was linked to tissue scarring within the respiratory system, breathing disorders, lung cancer and mesothelioma, a life threatening disease. All traces of the poisonous substance needed to be removed to protect the workers at the Portland shipyard. Ships and machinery that contained the hazardous substance had to be dealt with in a delicate and secure manner to reduce the risk of exposing even more people to the toxins it contained.
For years the workers at the Portland site spent time around asbestos, never knowing the dangers it possessed. Thousands of people were made ill, and many lives were lost. When Cascade General took over, they came up with a plan to dismantle ships that contained asbestos in a dry dock area to prevent the continued spread of the poisonous mineral. This plan not only helped make the process safer, it won them recognition and acclaim within environmental groups and helped them land a new contract with the US Navy, brining the company even more success.
Last modified: December 28, 2010.