The Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging Company was founded in Puget Sound in 1898. It was purchased shortly after its founding by the Lockheed Corporation and gained the name Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company. It was a Puget Sound institution for 89 years, finally closing operations in 1987.
During its history, the Lockheed Shipyard was a busy plant involved in ship and boat repair and refurbishment. Submarines, combat surface vessels, merchant ships, and tugboats were all docked at the Lockheed Shipyard for inspection, retrofitting, repair, and updating of systems. In the 1960s, the yard undertook construction of a number of Knox-class frigates and landing platform dockships for the U.S. Navy. In 1974, the Navy put in an order for two submarine tenders, the largest contract in Lockheed’s history. The yard would ultimately produce five of these vessels.
Unfortunately, many of the components built into these vessels’ structures contained the mineral asbestos, a commonly used material in seagoing construction during much of the twentieth century. Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fire-retardant material that was used extensively to line steam pipes and boiler rooms and routinely employed throughout the rest of a ship to prevent fire damage. In the days of coal boilers and submarine warfare, the use of fireproofing was considered essential to the safety of crew and cargo. Despite the fireproof benefits of asbestos, longstanding research has linked exposure this material with occurrences of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a malignant cancer that infects the outer lining of the lungs and has been historically resistant to effective treatment. While strides have been made in treating mesothelioma, it remains an often fatal disease. It is difficult to detect and, once diagnosed, it is usually advanced to a stage where drastic medical measures are required.
Though the Lockheed Shipyard closed, generations of workers had been employed there and been exposed to the asbestos that has been regularly used in the yard. Other toxic chemicals and substances were also regularly in use at the Lockheed Shipyard, often without the protective gear and precautions that would be mandated today. The Lockheed Corporation continues to settle disputes with former employees who have been affected by exposure to asbestos and chemical contamination.