The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard outside Bremerton is the largest naval shore facility in the Pacific Northwest. This site has been a major employer in the Bremerton area for over 100 years. Unfortunately, work on this naval site has also been a significant source of asbestos exposure in the area.
About the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard
Since 1891, the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard has employed many people from Bremerton, Silverdale and the surrounding Kitsap Peninsula to construct new ships as well as repair, deactivate or store older Naval vessels. During World War II, the workforce on this site totaled than 30,000 workers. The Korean War also saw significant activity at the shipyard, with a workforce of more than 15,000 on the site in 1952.
Unfortunately, the wartime years – when much of our community was employed at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard – are also years when asbestos use was at its height in shipbuilding. Because of its insulating properties, asbestos was used in almost every shipboard system for much of the 20th century. Components like adhesives, insulation, boilers, flooring, piping, pumps, gaskets, packing and valves may all contain this hazardous material.
Workers in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard may have been exposed to asbestos in a variety of ways. They may have handled asbestos-containing materials directly. They may have needed to drill into materials containing asbestos to install electrical wiring or repair damaged sections of the ship. The force required to decommission old vessels could easily release asbestos fibers into the air around them. Workers who did not directly work with asbestos materials are also at risk when from work they performed near other trades disturbing asbestos onboard ships.
Shipyard workers face increased risk of cancer and other conditions.
Because of the frequent use of asbestos in ship components during the 20th century, shipyard workers are some of the most likely to come into contact with asbestos and to suffer asbestos-related disease. When inhaled, the fine fibers of asbestos can enter the lungs, causing damage to lung tissue. Asbestos is also a known carcinogen, resulting in increased risk of cancer including most cases of mesothelioma.
Studies conducted in the 1980s indicated that 86 percent of shipyard workers—including those who did not work directly with materials containing asbestos—had developed asbestosis. Shipyard workers are also at increased risk of mesothelioma and other cancers.
Studies also indicated that the risks of this exposure did not end in the workplace. In fact, around 11.3 percent of shipyard workers’ spouses had signs of asbestosis because of the fibers stuck to those workers’ skin, hair and clothing.
Thanks to a wide variety of factors, including the longstanding place that shipyards like the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard have had in the community, rates of asbestos-related disease in Kitsap County are high. Nationwide, there are just under five deaths for every 100,000 people. Kitsap County, however, sees more than four times that, with a rate of 22.1 deaths for every 100,000 people putting the county at the highest rate of asbestos-related deaths in the state.
What options are available for shipyard workers harmed by asbestos exposure?
It may take workers years or even decades to see the full impact of asbestos exposure. Diseases related to asbestos often take decades to develop. However, once people develop symptoms of asbestos-related conditions, treatment can be particularly costly, with treatment for some conditions adding up to over 100,000 dollars over a person’s life.
While nothing can undo the harm that asbestos exposure has on shipyard workers and their families, it is possible for those people to seek justice. People exposed to asbestos in shipyards and other workplaces may want to seek experienced legal guidance as they explore their options and pursue compensation.