The Mare Island Naval Shipyard has historical importance in regards to its relationship with the US Navy. Located at Vallejo on the coast of California, the shipbuilding facility was the first to service the Navy on the west coast. The business also played an important role during both the world wars. Unfortunately, its history is tainted by the many workers who fell victim to asbestos-related diseases caused by exposure to the material because of the common shipbuilding practices of the era.
The shipyard at Mare Island was established in 1854, and even then ships were continually serviced and repaired to be sent back into action during war. In the late 1800s ships were dispatched from the facility to support troops fighting Native American uprisings in the Pacific Northwest. Patrols were maintained through Central America, with the Mare Island Naval Shipyard being the headquarters for such operations.
During World War I, the shipyard suffered the explosion of several ammunition barges, a crime that was eventually pinned on a German saboteur. Despite this, the war was a busy time for Mare Island, where the USS California, the only battleship to be built on the West Coast, was constructed. Workers there also set the speed record for building a destroyer, creating the USS Ward in a little over 17 days. Shortly after the war, the Navy instituted an underwater warfare program at the yard for the construction of submarines.
At its height of production during World War II, the Mare Island Naval Shipyard employed about 50,000 workers and built ships for British and Soviet allies. This yard was responsible for the creation and maintenance of much of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet of submarines. However, as shipbuilding practices progressed in the middle of the 20th century, asbestos became popular for being cheap and reliable in many applications. During installation and maintenance, many workers at the shipyard inhaled its dust.
When World War II finished, the Naval Shipyard became the main base for the US’s nuclear submarines. By the 1990s the shipyard was closed and sold to commercial companies. Today, part of the area is used by the US Forest Service and Coast Guard. Current workers have little to fear in regards to mesothelioma, but their predecessors are still struggling with the after effects of being exposed to large quantities of asbestos.