Situated in South Portland, Oregon, on more than six acres of property bordering the waterfront with a pier extending into the river, is the South Portland Shipyard & Marine Railways Corp. The shipyard includes two sections, with one containing a garage area, a paint shop, workshops, and machine shops and the offices in the administration building. This section is mainly used for repairs, ship maintenance, and administration.
The second part of the shipyard remains vacant, allowing it to accommodate tasks such as lathe-work and other repairs and up-fitting. The South Portland Shipyard also performs other operations such as welding, pesticide spraying, sandblasting, wood preserving, chemical treatments for rust-proofing, lead-based coating, zinc-coating, ship painting and re-painting.
Since the 1980s, the South Portland Shipyard has collected motor oil and waste fuel in storage facilities above-ground, as discovered in environmental studies and recent inspections. In addition, an accumulation of metal fragments, rust, paint and sandblasting waste products contributed to the contamination from the sandblasting operations in the shipyard. At times these waste products were supposedly used for stockpiling, seawall retaining, riff-raffing and land fill.
However, the presence of these chemicals presents a problem because these by-products contain fragments of hazardous substances and high levels of chemicals, including poly-nuclear aromatic hydrocarbons. Testing has also been performed on the groundwater wells in the area for an increase in levels of lead trace amounts and barium.
Unfortunately, many shipyard substances and materials used for rust-proofing, fireproofing, filtering vessels, roofing ship cabins, insulating chambers, insulation on electrical wires, and coating boilers contain asbestos. Microscopic fibers of asbestos, which are small needle-like slivers, are released into the air when the materials are disturbed. These fibers then become air borne, lodging themselves in the organs of the body when inhaled.
Asbestos exposure can cause malignant mesothelioma, a type of cancer that creates tumors in the lining of the abdomen, heart, or lungs. It typically takes years or even decades of exposure before patients are diagnosed with mesothelioma, then usually only appearing in the late stages of the disease, when doctors find it hard to treat and nearly impossible to cure. South Portland Shipyard’s possession of great quantities of waste products means asbestos exposure for employees remains high, despite regulation banning the material’s use today.