Naval Weapons Station Earle
1943 was the year that the shipyard and ammunition depot known as the Naval Weapons Earle first opened in Colts Neck, New Jersey. The facility boasts one of the longest piers ever built in the world, as it extends more than one mile away from the shore.
Colts Neck proved to be a very secluded and secure location as an ammunition loading facility. It was built on an area greater than 10,000 acres and became one of the most often used ports along the East Coast. Since it was located in such a rural area, the facility was virtually guaranteed to be safe from any potential enemy attack, and became widely recognized as a well protected site.
Despite the well known safety aspects of the Naval Weapons Earle, like so many other shipyards this New Jersey facility had a very serious threat that went unrecognized for many years. The danger was brought on by a naturally occurring mineral called asbestos. It was used as a primary ingredient in hundreds of products for years, and was commonly found in insulation and other items that were utilized all over shipyards and other industrial work sites.
Anyone who spent time at the Colts Neck facility was subjected to breathing in small amounts of asbestos dust that would break off from the insulation and other goods. Those that did inhale the dust particles were very likely to suffer as a result. It would attach to the victim's respiratory system and remain there permanently, often causing vast amounts of internal damage such as tissue scaring. Advanced cases led to breathing disorders, asbestosis and the feared cancer known as mesothelioma
People began to get sick after working at Naval Weapons Earle, but at first they did not know why. In fact, most people did not know that asbestos is a poison until the later 1970's. As workers started to realize that their time spent around asbestos based products was to blame for their illness, they began to file personal injury claims in record numbers. The government stepped in to regulate use of the hazardous mineral, and forced company owners to have every tainted product removed and properly disposed of. It took until the 1990's for the Navy to finish clean up efforts at their New Jersey facility, but testing done by the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) declared that the facility was clean and that it does "not pose harmful health effects" anymore.
Last modified: December 28, 2010.