Commissioned as a naval base in 1922 by then Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the San Diego Naval Shipyard and Air Station is the largest naval construction site on the west coast of the United States. Until World War II it was not an extraordinarily massive facility, and in its early years had on several occasions been on the brink of closure. When the nation entered the war against Japan and Germany, its importance as a shipbuilding center took center stage.
The San Diego Shipyard became the center of refitting and repair operations for the entire Pacific fleet of naval vessels. During the latter stages of the war, over 5,000 ships were brought to the facility for maintenance and refurbishing. Thousands of workers were employed at the facility, coming from not only the San Diego area, but from all over the country. Many would remain as residents of the city for years after the war ended.
One of the significant historical notes regarding this shipyard was its pioneering of floating dry docks for ship repair. In addition, the facility began an entire work division to construct floating dry docks to be distributed to all parts of the world. This helped ensure the success and continued operation of the naval base in the years after the war.
Known today as Naval Base San Diego, the facility currently is home to about 55 vessels and continues in its role as a repair and maintenance port. The closure of the Long Beach Naval Shipyard in 1994 meant even more focus was shifted to San Diego. Redesign of the dock areas to handle additional vessels gave the facility a new look.
The shipyard still employees thousands of workers today. The workers that produced vessels and performed maintenance in the 1940s were often exposed to asbestos. Many parts that were used in shipbuilding, especially pipes and other metals, were often insulated or fireproofed using asbestos. Exposure to the particles resulted in deteriorating health among shipbuilders.
Unfortunately the diseases caused by asbestos exposure, especially lung cancer, asbestosis, pleural scarring and mesothelioma are slow to develop and can take many years before all symptoms are noticed. Countless workers at shipyards in the mid 20th century weren’t diagnosed with these diseases until much later. Today products containing asbestos are not used at Naval Station San Diego.