Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard

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In 1908, U.S. Congress passed an act officially creating Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard for military use. The shipyard was made famous after the Japanese attacked it during World War II (WWII), resulting in the U.S. joining the war. During several decades of the shipyard’s history, asbestos was used in ship repairs and would have been present on many of the ships homeported at Pearl Harbor. The presence of asbestos put thousands at risk of developing mesothelioma throughout the years.

01. Shipyard History


Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is located on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu and was officially established as a shipyard for the U.S. Navy in 1908.

Between 1908 and 1919, the shipyard grew at a steady rate and now covers 148 acres and has four drydocks. On December 7, 1941, the destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes, along with the battleship USS Pennsylvania, were hit by attacking Japanese planes. This launched the U.S. into World War II. The destroyers were damaged beyond repair. The USS Arizona was also sunk by the attack, suffering the loss of more than 1,100 men. A white concrete and steel structure now spans the hull of the sunken ship, which was dedicated as a national memorial on May 30, 1962.

Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is now the largest and most comprehensive fleet repair and maintenance facility in the U.S. The workers here have been involved in many famous ship repairs, including USS Yorktown during WWII, the USS Denver in 2000 and the USS San Francisco in 2005.

Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard History at a Glance

  • Other Names: Navy Yard Pearl Harbor, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, PHNSY & IMF
  • Location: The Hawaiian Island of Oahu
  • Owner(s): Federal Government
  • Years of Operation: 1908 – Present
  • Wartime Operations: World War II (WWII), Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War, Gulf War and combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Number of Employees: More than 6,000 in 2019
  • Size of Shipyard: 148 acres
  • Noteworthy Ships: USS Arizona, USS Cassin, USS Downes, USS Pennsylvania, USS Oklahoma, USS Yorktown, USS Denver, USS San Francisco, USS Columbia
  • Types of Ships Built/Serviced: Destroyers, aircraft carriers, submarines, battleships, cruisers

Many workers at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard 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

Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is one of the most famous shipyards in the United States. Many notable ships can be tied to this shipyard especially during World War II. The aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and the battleship USS Oklahoma both had strong ties to this shipyard.

USS Yorktown

The USS Yorktown was an aircraft carrier laid down in 1934 by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company. She was the lead ship of her class and was the first large, purpose-built aircraft carrier constructed for the U.S. Navy. USS Yorktown was part of the Atlantic Fleet for WWII in 1941 but moved to the Pacific after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Quick Ship Facts
  • Ship’s Name: USS Yorktown
  • Year Built: 1934
  • Years in Service: 1937 – 1942

One of her most famous battles in WWII was the Battle of the Coral Sea, where she sank one Japanese carrier and severely damaged another. During this battle, she was badly damaged by a bomb hit. She returned to Pearl Harbor where it was estimated it would take three months to fully repair the damage. However, Pacific Fleet Commander Nimitz directed the USS Yorktown to return to sea as quickly as possible. As a result, 1,400 shipyard workers repaired her, and USS Yorktown departed Pearl Harbor only three days after arriving. In the Battle of Midway, she was sunk by a Japanese submarine.

From the time USS Yorktown was laid down until the time she was sunk, asbestos was being used in the building and repairs of Navy ships. Anyone working on this ship would have been at risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

USS Oklahoma

The battleship, USS Oklahoma, was laid down at New York Shipbuilding Corporation in 1914. Towards the end of World War I (WWI), she helped to protect convoys in Europe. Her next war effort was for the Spanish Civil War, where she helped evacuate U.S. citizens and others in 1936.

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

In 1940, her home port was changed to Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. In 1941, she was hit by Japanese aerial torpedoes and quickly sunk with 400 of her crew. Many of the crewmembers were cut free from her hull. In 1943, she was refloated, dry-docked, stripped of guns and other equipment and repaired to make her watertight. She was decommissioned in 1944, sold for scrapping in 1946, but sank while under tow from Hawaii to California in May 1947.

From her time in the Spanish Civil War to the time she sunk, asbestos would have been used heavily in repairs done to USS Oklahoma. This asbestos use would have put crew members and workers at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.

02. Shipyard Asbestos Use

Asbestos Use at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard

Asbestos is highly heat resistant and durable. Thus, it was used in many aspects of ship construction. Shipbuilders used asbestos to prevent fires and control the amount of heat released by heavy equipment.

Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard was very active during WWII and for years after. During this time, asbestos use was very common. At Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, 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 asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos product highlight: Pipe insulation

Asbestos insulation was often used on pipes. This insulation helped contain the heat within the pipe. People who installed or maintained this type of insulation were exposed to asbestos. Additionally, over time, this insulation could break down and release asbestos fibers into the air and harm people aboard ships.

Asbestos Exposure at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard

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 Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard from the 1930s through the 1980s was at high risk of exposure and could develop malignant mesothelioma cancer.

Anyone who serviced destroyers, aircraft carriers, submarines, battleships, cruisers or other ships at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard 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

Employees and visitors of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard 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 the companies’ current statuses. 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 (or a combination of these types of claims).

Holding Asbestos Companies Responsible

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.

For example, people working with valves from Copes-Vulcan Inc. developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos in the product through work in shipyards.

Another viable company, Rockwell Automation Inc., wrongfully exposed shipyard workers to asbestos through their electrical products. Some victims have filed successful lawsuits against these companies.

Example Lawsuit Recovery for Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard Worker

67-Year-Old Former U.S. Navy Boiler Tender Diagnosed With Mesothelioma

Recovery: ~$1.98 million

Years of Asbestos Exposure at Pearl Harbor: 1967 – 1968

A U.S. Navy boiler tender was exposed to asbestos-containing products at Naval Station Pearl Harbor while serving aboard the USS Fletcher. The ship was stationed there from 1967 – 1968. While serving in the fire and engine rooms, he operated, maintained and repaired equipment, including steam pipes, generators, boilers, pumps and other machinery. He worked with many asbestos-containing products, including pipe coverings, insulating cement, refractory cement, packing and gaskets. After making repairs to and insulating equipment, he would clean and sweep up the debris. This created large quantities of asbestos dust, which he breathed in.

04. Filing Asbestos Claims

Asbestos Company Trusts

After exposing unknowing people to asbestos, many companies have filed for bankruptcy. In fact, more than 100 asbestos companies have gone bankrupt since the 2000s. As a result of their filings, many of these companies were forced to create trusts to compensate victims of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Many Navy and civilian personnel were exposed to asbestos through their work in shipyards. These individuals used a variety of asbestos products. If a shipyard worker developed an asbestos-related disease, that person can file an asbestos claim with that product manufacturer’s trust.

Asbestos Company Trust Funds and Eligible Years of Employment

The following companies provided asbestos products to Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. 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 Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard 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
Combustion Engineering 12/31/1943 12/31/1982
Fibreboard 1/1/1935 12/31/1982
Halliburton 1/1/1940 12/31/1982
Keene Corporation 1/1/1939 12/31/1969
Owens Corning 1/1/1935 12/31/1982
Pittsburgh Corning 7/1/1969 12/31/1982
Plant Insulation 1/1/1960 1/1/1971