Established in 1928, the Lyon Shipyard is located along the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, Virginia, and was one of the largest shipyards in the U.S. It was founded by Guy Moon and George C. Lyon, Sr., to provide repair services for barges, tugboats, vessels, and ships. Originally called the Moon Shipyard and Repair Corporation, at first it only had a small office, store room, and a machine shop. Moon sold his share of the company sometime in the 1930s or 1940s.
During World War II, the harbor business grew and this shipyard grew with it. It was during this time that the name was changed to the Lyon Shipyard and operations began to include commercial shipping as well as government contracts. Expansion of the shipyard also included increasing the number of workers. These workers were involved in repairing ships that had asbestos in many components. Lyon Shipyard workers were constantly handling asbestos which was found on coated boilers, valves, gears, and pipes. Asbestos is used as a material to prevent fires and also is used as insulation around pipes. Heat and handling eventually leads asbestos to crumble and turn into a fibrous dust.
Asbestos fibers that are inhaled can become lodged in the lungs of the worker. These fibers will begin to irritate the lungs and can cause cancerous cells to develop, often resulting in a type of cancer called mesothelioma. There are a variety of symptoms associated with mesothelioma and include coughing, pain in the chest, bowel obstruction, trouble swallowing, pain in the neck, and swollen lymph nodes. Unfortunately, since these symptoms can take between 20 and 50 years to develop, many former shipyard workers may not think to connect them with materials they worked with decades before.
Unlike many shipyards, which closed in the years following World War II, the Lyon Shipyard is still operational today. Though Lyon passed away in 1977, the company was taken over by his son George C. Lyon, Jr. In the early 1990s, the yard was able to rent a drydock, allowing it to widen its customer base. While asbestos is no longer used in the construction or repair of ships, it can still be found on older seagoing vessels.