Washington Navy Yard
This historic Navy Yard is located on the banks of the Anacostia River. It was build over 200 years ago in the year 1800. It quickly became the largest and busiest shipyard in the US. During the first few years in operation, there were 22 vessels that were constructed in this yard, including both small gun boats and the Minnesota, which was a 246-foot steam frigate. It is also important to note that the Washington Navy Yard is the US Navy's oldest shore establishment. One of the most famous ships, the USS Constitution, was refitted at this yard in 1812.
In 1814, the yard was ordered to be burned down, as it was deemed that it could not be defended properly. Most of the buildings were destroyed in the flames, but once the remnants of the fire were cleaned up the Navy decided that the yard could focus solely on shipbuilding. For the next century, the newly built yard was the birthplace of one of the earliest steam engines in the US. It was used to make anchors, chains and steam engines for war vessels.
After the fire, the Secretary of the Navy decided that the emphasis at the Navy Yard should be switched to shipbuilding and it remained that way for about a century.
The Civil War was a very lucrative time for the yard as well. At the end of the war, it was designated the manufacturing center for all ordinance for the Navy. The highly skilled workers of this yard made armament for the Great White Fleet as well as the World War I Navy. This included 14-inch naval railway guns that were used by the French in World War I. At the onset of the Second World War, it was the largest naval ordinance plant in the world.
The yard is not only responsible for innovations in ship construction and repair, there have also been many scientific developments over the years. There have been a lot of qualified people who have worked in this yard who were instrumental in developing many big scientific breakthroughs that are now being used by other yards all over the world. It has also served as a ceremonial area for diplomatic missions and many other important political events. Today, it sits proudly as the Headquarters for the Naval District of Washington.
As with most companies of the time who were involved in ship building, the Washington Navy Yard used asbestos in many areas of the shipbuilding. Therefore, many employees were unwittingly subjected to asbestos exposure while working at the shipyard. Asbestos is not usually harmful if it is kept intact. However, the employees that had to deal with it when it was broken, being installed or being removed, would have been most affected by the exposure. As well, electricians, welders and pipe fitters were also at a higher risk of contamination.
Asbestos contamination has been a common problem with countless shipyards in United States history. It was simply not understood at the time that asbestos is a very harmful substance and should be handled with care. In fact, asbestos was first considered to be so useful, it was used in hundreds of products because of its fire retardant and insulating properties.
There are several consequences to exposure to asbestos. Two of the major diseases associated with exposure are asbestosis and mesothelioma. These can both be very severe if left untreated. Due to this exposure, there has been some legal action that has been taken against the Washington Navy Yard. Legal action is usually taken by the former employees themselves, or if they have passed on, their families.
With such a long history of shipbuilding and fitting, the Washington Navy Yard employed many civilians and military personnel who performed various jobs which may have unknowingly exposed them to asbestos. Shipyard employees who've suffered asbestos exposure may include Boiler Technicians, Construction Mechanics, Damage Controlmen, Electronics Technicians, Enginemen, Fire Control Technicians, and many others. However, this should not take away from the fact that the Washington Navy Yard has been one of the most influential shipyards in the last century. It has spawned many scientific advancements and has contributed to the Navy in a way that is unparalleled by most shipyards of the last century.
Last modified: December 28, 2010.