The Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, VA is the oldest operating maritime shipyard in the U.S. Over the years, it has expanded and changed with the industry. Today, it serves to develop both private contract and naval vessels.
Andrew Sprowle established the shipyard as a maintenance dock for use by the British Empire in the 1760’s. After Americans declared independence shortly after, the shipyard was left deserted. The Commonwealth of Virginia then claimed ownership of the site, which was burned by British troops during the Revolutionary War. In 1794 the facility was reopened when the federal government leased the shipyard from Virginia and proceeded to use it as a construction site for naval vessels.
Over Production of naval vessels boomed in the 1940’s and the shipyard employed over 40,000 people. A number of specialty naval vessels such as tank landing ships were built. The heightened work activity didn’t cease until after the Korean conflict had come to an end in the early 1950s. The yard acquired nuclear shipbuilding capability in 1965.The first dry dock in the western hemisphere was built here.
As major vessels are no longer needed for conflict purposes, production has declined at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in the past decades. Today the base remains an important repair facility and constructs a good amount of private vessels as well. In 1998 a large cleanup process was put in motion at the shipyard. A complete removal of hazardous materials, toxic chemicals, and other dangerous items was ordered, making it one of the largest base remodels in the entire country.
Asbestos is among the most important materials removed from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. They also removed paints, thinners, machine oils and various sledges. An endless number of workers at the facility have been exposed to asbestos over the past century. The symptoms of the disease are only now becoming evident in employees who were exposed to asbestos as much as 30 years ago.