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The Brooklyn Navy Yard is one of the nation’s oldest, most historic shipyards. It sits on the banks of the East River in Brooklyn, New York. Since its opening in 1801, many important military ships were built and launched from the shipyard, such as the USS Arizona and the USS Missouri. Today, the Brooklyn Navy Yard is a bustling industrial park. But until the 1960s, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was a busy shipbuilding and ship-repairing site. Throughout its operations, employees at the shipyard were at substantial risk of asbestos exposure on the job.


01. Shipyard History

History

The Brooklyn Naval Yard originally opened in 1801 as a United States Military shipyard. Its location on the East River, near Manhattan, was considered ideal for future military operations.

It operated continuously as a shipbuilding and repairing site until it was shut down in 1966. At the height of operations during World War II, 70,000 Americans worked at the shipyard. At the time, it was home to the world’s largest crane and dry docks. Upon its closing in 1966, the number of shipyard employees had dropped to about 9,000.

New York City (NYC) gave the Brooklyn Navy Yard new life as an industrial park in 1969. At the time, it was managed by a nonprofit organization called Commerce, Labor and Industry in the County of Kings (CLICK). The shipyard’s largest tenant during CLICK’s tenure was a private shipbuilding company, Seatrain Shipbuilding. Seatrain was “a dismal failure,” laying off thousands of employees in 1975 before closing in 1979.

The mayor of NYC transferred Brooklyn Navy Yard from CLICK to the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC) in 1979. The BNYDC worked hard to diversify the shipyard’s tenants. By 1998, the site was at 98% occupancy with about 3,000 active employees.

Under BNYDC management, the navy yard has a variety of tenants today. In 2004, the navy yard added a movie studio, Steiner Studios. The Brooklyn shipyard also hosts one of the country’s largest rooftop farms, Brooklyn Grange.

Brooklyn Shipyard History At-a-Glance

  • Other Names: Brooklyn Naval Yard, Brooklyn Navy Shipyard, United States Navy Yard New York, New York Naval Yard, New York Naval Shipyard, The Yard
  • Location: 141 Flushing Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11205 – On the banks of the East River, Brooklyn, New York, just south of the Williamsburg Bridge, bordered by Flushing Avenue and Kent Avenue
  • Owner(s): The United States Military, CLICK and BNYDC
  • Years of Operation: 1801 – 1966
  • Wartime Operations: World War II (WWII), the Spanish-American War, the Korean War and the attack on Pearl Harbor
  • Number of Employees: 70,000 at the height of operation and 11,000+ currently
  • Size of Shipyard: 300 acres
  • Noteworthy Ships: USS Maine, USS Arizona, USS Missouri, USS Monitor
  • Noteworthy Personnel: Commodore Matthew C. Perry founded the Naval Lyceum, which was the precursor to the U.S. Naval Academy.
  • Types of Ships Built/Serviced: Navy warships, armored warships, steamers, aircraft carriers

Many workers at Brooklyn Navy Yard were potentially exposed to asbestos. Workers’ loved ones may have also experienced secondhand exposure. As a result, many people developed asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestosis, asbestos lung cancer, and pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. People who developed an asbestos-related disease may be eligible for compensation.

Notable Ships Built and Repaired

As one of the oldest shipyards in the country, the Brooklyn Naval Yard has built some of the most famous ships in the world. It operated from 1801 to 1966 as a military shipyard, actively building and repairing battleships during that time period.

Ships built at the shipyard figured prominently in World War II (WWII), the Spanish-American War, the Korean War, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Gulf War. Many of these ships also contained a wide variety of asbestos-containing products and materials.

USS Missouri

The USS Missouri went into service in 1944. In this time period, shipbuilders used asbestos to insulate ship hulls, boilers and pipes. This put crewmen on the USS Missouri at risk of asbestos exposure and illness during crucial wartime operations.

Quick Ship Facts
  • Ship’s Name: USS Missouri, aka “Mighty Mo”
  • Year Built: 1941 – 1944
  • Years In Service: 1944 – 1955, 1986 – 1992

The ship provided anti-aircraft support during World War II (WWII) and hosted the signing of Japan’s surrender in 1945. After being decommissioned, recommissioned and decommissioned again, the USS Missouri was transformed into a memorial museum.

The Battleship Missouri Memorial is located on Battleship Row, Ford Island, Pearl Harbor.

USS Arizona

The USS Arizona was commissioned in 1916 and served in the U.S. Navy until the attack on Pearl Harbor. The ship served during a time in which asbestos was used extensively as an insulator and fireproofing material. This posed a risk of asbestos exposure for crew members, increasing their chances of developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.

Quick Ship Facts
  • Ship’s Name: USS Arizona
  • Year Built: 1914 – 1916
  • Years In Service: 1916 – 1941

The USS Arizona sank after direct bomb hits from Japanese aircraft, killing 1,100 crewmen. After salvaging what it could, the U.S. military left most of the ship where it sank. A memorial structure was built over a portion of the sunken ship.

The National Park Service oversees the memorial, which commemorates those who lost their lives in Pearl Harbor and the Pacific War.

02. Shipyard Asbestos Use

Asbestos Use at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Asbestos has properties ideal for building ships. It is highly resistant to heat, fire and physical breakdown. Thus, shipbuilders used asbestos to decrease fire and combustion risks associated with heavy, dangerous equipment.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard was very active prior to the closing of its shipyard in 1966. During this time, asbestos use was very common. At the Brooklyn Navy Yard, asbestos was used as insulation in walls, boilers, incinerators and around pipes. As a result, workers came in contact with many products that put them at risk of developing malignant mesothelioma cancer.

Asbestos product highlight: Asbestos lagging

Lagging was a cloth-like material often used to wrap steam pipes in ships. It may have contained up to 90% asbestos. In some cases, shipyard employees manufactured their own lagging with insufficient safety equipment. This put workers at high risk of inhaling asbestos. Crew members were also at risk of exposure if the lagging was disturbed and released asbestos fibers into the air.

Asbestos Exposure at Brooklyn Navy Yard

The Brooklyn Navy Yard bustled with the activity of private citizens and military personnel. With the amount of asbestos in shipyards and ships, U.S. Navy veterans faced frequent exposure. Civilian workers and visitors also faced asbestos exposure risk. Before the 1980s, any shipyard visitor faced potential asbestos exposure and the risk of developing mesothelioma.

Maintenance workers for warships, steamers and aircraft carriers faced the same risks. Poor ventilation on ships combined with pervasive asbestos use made exposure common.

For example, plumbers and electricians were exposed through the normal course of their jobs.

Exposed to asbestos at work: Plumbers and pipefitters

Workers who installed and repaired pipes and plumbing were at risk of asbestos exposure. The dangerous mineral insulated plumbing fixtures throughout ships. Any time the material was disturbed, workers faced a risk of inhaling asbestos fibers.

Asbestos use all but stopped before the 1980s. However, people can still be exposed at shipyards when working on ships maintained or built pre-1980. Various shipyard duties, including sanding or sawing pipes for installation, exposed workers to asbestos.

03. Asbestos Lawsuits

Asbestos Lawsuits and Settlements

Employees and visitors of the Brooklyn Navy Yard are at risk of developing asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestos cancer. If diagnosed, such individuals have several legal options for compensation.

Victims may obtain financial compensation from the companies responsible for their asbestos exposure. Their options will depend on that company’s current status. The best route for any victim is to work with a mesothelioma lawyer who can ensure they pursue and obtain payment from a lawsuit, settlement, VA claim and/or trust fund payment.

Holding Asbestos Companies Accountable

Some asbestos-producing companies are still operational and have not filed for bankruptcy. Individuals can still file lawsuits against such companies. Asbestos lawsuits can result in verdicts or settlements.

John Crane Company is an example of a viable company whose products were present on ships at Brooklyn Navy Shipyard. John Crane specialized in sealing systems with asbestos components. They made a cable tube packing for a period of time that electricians working at the shipyard were exposed to, and lawsuits have been filed as a result.

General Electric is another viable company that made products used on ships at BNSY. They produced electric and power generation equipment that would expose many different tradesmen and shipyard workers to asbestos.

Victims have filed successful lawsuits against these companies.

Example Lawsuit Recovery for Brooklyn Navy Shipyard Worker

79-Year-Old Watchman Diagnosed With Pleural Mesothelioma

Recovery: ~$3,100,000

Dates of Asbestos Exposure at BNSY: 1/1/1959 – 12/31/1959

A U.S. Navy watchman serving fire watch at the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard was assigned to the construction of the USS Independence CV-62. His watch brought him within close proximity to shipyard workers. He worked near welders, pipefitters and boilermakers who installed heat systems. These and other tradesmen cut and installed asbestos-containing block insulation and pipe covering, mixed asbestos-containing insulation and refractory cements. They also cut and installed packing and gaskets while installing valves and pumps. All of these activities exposed the watchman to harmful quantities of asbestos dust.

04. Asbestos Company Trusts

Asbestos Company Trusts

Wrongful asbestos exposure and the resulting lawsuits have contributed to more than 100 companies filing for bankruptcy in the last 20 years. As part of the bankruptcy process, many asbestos companies created trust funds. Asbestos trust funds provide compensation for current and future victims of asbestos-related conditions.

Shipyard employees came into contact with asbestos as a result of products containing the mineral. Shipyard workers who developed an asbestos-related disease are eligible to file a claim with the product manufacturer’s trust.

Asbestos Company Trust Funds and Eligible Years of Employment

The following companies provided asbestos products to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. After facing many asbestos lawsuits and exposing innocent people to asbestos, these companies filed for bankruptcy and created trusts to pay victims. If an individual worked at Brooklyn Navy Yard and developed a disease such as mesothelioma, they may be able to file a claim against these companies’ trusts.

Asbestos Trust Funds & Eligible Years of Employment
Asbestos Company Name Eligibility Start Date Eligibility End Date
A.P. Green 1/1/1940 1/2/1968
Armstrong WI Trust 1/1/1942 12/31/1982
Babcock & Wilcox 1/1/1903 12/31/1982
Combustion Engineering 1/1/1940 12/31/1982
Fibreboard 1/1/1940 12/31/1982
Flexitallic 1/1/1939 12/31/1982
Halliburton 1/1/1936 12/31/1982
Keene Corporation 1/1/1942 12/31/1982
Owens Corning 1/1/1940 12/31/1982
Pittsburgh Corning 7/1/1962 12/31/1982
United States Gypsum 1/1/1940 1/2/1968
United States Mineral 1/1/1960 12/31/1982

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