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Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company has been in operation since 1886. Ships built in the shipyard have been in many wars throughout history. Asbestos was used in shipbuilding during a majority of these wars, putting many Navy personnel at risk of developing mesothelioma. Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company still operates today as the sole designer, builder and refueler of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and one of two providers of U.S. Navy submarines.

01. Shipyard History


Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company opened in 1886, originally under the name Chesapeake Dry Dock and Construction Company. The shipyard is located in Newport News, Virginia, at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay along the James River.

From the beginning, and throughout most of its history, the private shipyard built U.S. Navy and commercial vessels. Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company had many accomplishments, including building 25 destroyers during World War I. Employment at Newport News peaked at 31,000 during World War II. After the outbreak of the Korean War, the shipyard was awarded a contract for the first of several new supercarriers.

In the late 1950s, Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company began launching nuclear-powered submarines. In the 1970s, with U.S. Navy ships accounting for a majority of the business the shipyard was doing, it was decided the yard would work to attract more commercial contracts.

At present, Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company is the sole designer, builder and refueler of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. It is also one of two providers of U.S. Navy submarines.

Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company History At-a-Glance

  • Other Names: The Chesapeake Dry Dock and Construction Company
  • Location: Newport News, Virginia at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay along the James River
  • Owner(s): Collis P. Huntington, Collis P. Huntington’s Estate, New York brokers, Tenneco Inc., Northrop Grumman, Huntington Ingalls Industries
  • Years of Operation: 1886 – Present
  • Wartime Operations: Spanish-American War, World War I (WWI), World War II (WWII), Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War and the U.S. War in Afghanistan
  • Number of Employees: 31,000 in 1943
  • Size of Shipyard: 550 acres
  • Noteworthy Ships: Tugboat Dorothy, USS Nashville, USS Wilmington, USS Helena, USS Ranger, SS United States, USS Forrestal, USS Robert E. Lee, USS Enterprise, USS Nimitz, USS George H.W. Bush, USS Los Angeles, USS Gerald R. Ford, USS John F. Kennedy, SS Sansinena, USS Shark, USS Enterprise, USS Ronald Regan, USS Cheyenne
  • Noteworthy Personnel: Collis P. Huntington, Archer Milton Huntington, Homer L. Ferguson, William E. Blewett, Jr., Edward J. Campbell, W. R. Phillips, William P. Pricks
  • Types of Ships Built/Serviced: Tugboats, gunboats, battleships, submarines, aircraft carriers, ocean liners, cargo ships, bay and river steamers, oil tankers

Many workers at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company 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

Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company has been actively building ships for more than 130 years. The shipyard has built more than 800 ships, including naval and commercial ships.

These ships were active in many wars including World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. They were also important players in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the U.S. War in Afghanistan. Many of these ships were also built and repaired using products containing asbestos.

USS Enterprise

The USS Enterprise was an aircraft carrier that was laid down in 1959 at Newport News Shipyard and Dry Dock Company. She was the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and the largest ship in the world when she joined the fleet in 1961. The USS Enterprise’s eight nuclear reactors constituted her as “the most powerful nuclear power plant on the face of the Earth.”

Quick Ship Facts
  • Ship’s Name: USS Enterprise, aka “Big E”
  • Year Built: 1958 – 1960
  • Years in Service: 1961 – 2012

The USS Enterprise was best known for her part in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and the attack on al-Qaeda and Taliban locations in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. The USS Enterprise’s last year of service was 2012. She was decommissioned in 2017 at Newport News.

The USS Enterprise was built and in service for several decades when asbestos was used in shipbuilding and repair. This put her crew members and workers at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma.

USS Forrestal

The USS Forrestal was commissioned in 1955 at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. She was the Navy’s first “supercarrier” and provided support during the Lebanon crisis in 1958. She provided support during the Vietnam War until 1967 when she suffered a massive fire on her flight deck. This resulted in the loss of 130 men and several aircraft. From this tragedy, the Navy learned fire-fighting lessons, which are still in practice today.

Quick Ship Facts
  • Ship’s Name: USS Forrestal
  • Year Built: 1952
  • Years in Service: 1954 – 1993

After being repaired, she was active in Libya and the Middle East in the 1980s and early 1990s. After her service in Operation Provide Comfort in 1991, she became a training carrier until she was decommissioned in 1993. The USS Forrestal was scrapped in December 2015, following unsuccessful efforts to turn her into a museum ship.

The USS Forrestal was built and active at a time when asbestos was used during shipbuilding and repair. The use of asbestos put her crew and workers at risk of developing mesothelioma from the time of her construction.

02. Shipyard Asbestos Use

Asbestos Use at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company

Asbestos was used to manufacture many products. It was a popular additive because it increased the durability and heat resistance of substances. Such products were ideal for use in the harsh environments often present in the shipping industry.

Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company started operations in 1886 and is still active today. Asbestos use was common from the 1930s to the 1980s. The dangerous mineral was often present in items such as boilers, incinerators, insulating materials and other elements of ships. This means people who worked in shipyards have a high risk of asbestos exposure and of developing asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos product highlight: Ceiling and floor tiles

Ceilings and floors inside ships had to withstand high temperatures and wear and tear. Asbestos was added to tiles to limit maintenance and replacement. It also served as an effective fire retardant. When people installed or repaired asbestos tiles, they were exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos Exposure at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company

Shipyards were staffed by military personnel and civilians. Because asbestos use in shipyards was so common, veterans of the U.S. Navy were frequently exposed. However, anybody who worked at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company from the 1930s through the 1980s was at high risk of exposure and could develop malignant mesothelioma cancer.

Anyone who serviced tugboats, gunboats, battleships, submarines, aircraft carriers, ocean liners, cargo ships, bay and river steamers, oil tankers or other ships at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company faced a similar risk. Frequent use and a lack of ventilation on ships made asbestos exposure commonplace. For example, construction and maintenance workers were exposed when working in boiler rooms.

Exposed to asbestos at work: Boiler mechanics

People who installed, maintained or repaired boilers are at risk of asbestos exposure. Asbestos can be found in the linings of boilers, steam pipes and valves. Boiler workers often operate in tight spaces with high concentrations of airborne asbestos fibers.

Even today, people can be exposed to asbestos when working on older ships. Workers can be exposed during maintenance or decommissioning of ships built before the 1980s. A variety of duties, such as replacing pipes or repairing old boilers, can expose workers to asbestos.

03. Asbestos Lawsuits

Asbestos Lawsuits and Settlements

Anyone who spent time at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company and developed asbestos cancer or another asbestos-related disease has potential compensation options. The companies who manufactured the products that exposed these people to asbestos can be held responsible.

How an individual can be compensated depends on the status of the responsible company. A mesothelioma lawyer can help the victim secure compensation through a lawsuit, settlement, VA claim and/or trust fund claim (or a combination of these options).

Holding Asbestos Companies Responsible

Various companies that used to manufacture asbestos products have not filed for bankruptcy. Individuals can file lawsuits against such companies. Asbestos lawsuits can provide victims compensation through verdicts or settlements.

For example, Spirax Sarco, Inc. supplied steam traps to shipyards such as Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. Some of the products Spirax Sarco, Inc. supplied contained asbestos.

Grinnell Corp. is another viable company that supplied asbestos materials to shipyards for decades, including during WWII. As a result, people were wrongfully exposed and developed asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.

Some of these victims have filed successful lawsuits against the companies.

Example Lawsuit Recovery for Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company Worker

65-Year-Old Painter Diagnosed With Pleural Mesothelioma

Recovery: $2.2 million

Dates of Employment at Newport News Shipyard: January 1961 – December 1963

A 65-year-old former painter at Newport News Naval Shipyard was exposed to asbestos-containing materials. He worked with asbestos materials, such as fireproofing, boilers, pipe covering, block, cement, gaskets, insulation and refractory products. He also worked in the vicinity of insulators, repairmen and other tradesmen using asbestos products. His duties exposed him to asbestos dust daily.

04. Filing Asbestos Claims

Asbestos Company Trusts

After exposing many people to asbestos and dealing with the associated claims, more than 100 companies have filed for bankruptcy since the 2000s. As part of their bankruptcy filings, many of these asbestos companies created trust funds to compensate current and future victims of asbestos diseases.

Many Navy veterans, shipyard workers and others have developed asbestos-related illnesses after asbestos exposure on the job. Victims can seek compensation by filing a claim against the responsible asbestos manufacturer’s trust fund.

Asbestos Company Trust Funds and Eligible Years of Employment

The following companies provided asbestos products to Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. 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 Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company 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 1/1/1964 1/2/1968
Armstrong WI Trust 1/1/1940 12/31/1982
Babcock & Wilcox 1/1/1901 12/31/1982
Combustion Engineering 1/1/1926 12/31/1982
C.E. Thurston 1/1/1952 12/31/1981
Fibreboard 1/1/1928 12/31/1982
Flexitallic 1/1/1941 12/31/1982
Halliburton 1/1/1926 12/31/1982
Harbison Walker 6/12/1969 6/12/1970
Kaiser Aluminum 1/1/1976 12/31/1982
Keene Corporation 1/1/1941 12/31/1981
NARCO 1/1/1961 3/31/1967
Owens Corning 1/1/1940 12/31/1982
Pittsburgh Corning 7/1/1962 12/31/1982
Porter Hayden 1/1/1941 12/31/1982
United States Gypsum 1/1/1954 12/31/1982
United States Mineral 1/1/1960 12/31/1982
Yarway 6/18/1953 12/31/1982

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