The U.S. Navy experimented with saving money by combining the operations of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The merged shipyards were renamed the San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard. It was the largest naval shipyard in the world at the time.
The Hunters Point portion of the shipyard was the site of the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory (NRDL). The ships connected with the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests were sent there for decontamination and disposal. As a result, many areas of the Hunters Point shipyard are radioactively contaminated.
The anticipated savings never materialized. The grand experiment ended in 1970 with Mare Island and Hunters Point reverting to separate operations. Budget cuts resulted in the Navy closing the base at Hunters Point in 1974. It was then leased until 1987 to Triple-A Company. The Navy resumed control of the property that year. Leasing of the property has continued while clean-up operations are also in progress.
The Mare Island base remained in operation until in May of 1996. After clean up the island was turned over to the city of Vallejo. The Mare Island Historic Park Foundation gives tours, and the city plans to develop the area in other ways as well.
With such a long history, it comes as no surprise that many hazardous wastes were in common use at both Mare Island and Hunters Point. One of the most common was asbestos. This fibrous, naturally fireproof material was used everywhere. It was in the fireproof buildings. It was used in the ships and submarines. Every person who handled it was exposed to asbestos dust, as the use of respirators was almost unheard of.
Many of the jobs in both shipyards included working with asbestos. Steelworkers used asbestos welding pads. Construction workers installed asbestos batts for fireproofing. Machinists worked with asbestos gaskets. Walking through a cloud of asbestos dust was common.
Thousands of individuals who worked in these shipyards have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. Considering that decision-makers knew of the risks of asbestos exposure by 1939, much of the pain and suffering involved could have been avoided. But standards weren't issued until 1943. Even then, the standards were passed off as guidelines not mandates. It wasn't until the 1970s when the devastating effects of asbestos poisoning could no longer be suppressed that precautions became general practice.
Asbestos dust is now known to be one of the worst toxic substances known to humankind. Many individuals that are exposed to asbestos dust in their everyday environment develop cancer of the mesothelium, a special lining on the surface of our internal organs that prevents them from sticking to each other. Because of its location, the cancer is called mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma, cancer of the lining of the lungs, is the most common.
Many of the warning signs for mesothelioma cancer are easy to mistake for other health issues. Some of the symptoms are shortness of breath, a dry cough, and fluid in the lungs, insomnia, loss of appetite, and weight loss. If you have these symptoms, make sure that your physician knows about any asbestos exposure you may have had.