The United States Navy Yard, New York, more commonly known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard, was once one of the largest shipyards in the United States. Its located in Brooklyn, New York, close to Manhattan’s Corlear’s Hook. During its peak, it produced massive amounts of ships for the for the U.S. Navy. Yet, as large and productive as the Brooklyn Navy Yard once was, it used excessive amounts of asbestos in machinery and products, leading to thousands of asbestos-related illnesses and deaths.
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Brooklyn Navy Yard History
Brooklyn Navy Yard was established in 1801 as one of the first of the five original shipyards in the United States. It was created after forty-two acres of land was purchased from a ship owner and converted into a Naval shipyard. Its previous owner, John Jackson, created a built a frigate known as ADAMS, which was the first government-appointed vessel built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Shortly after, the Brooklyn Navy Yard became an important part of the War of 1812, when over 100 ships were built for the battle. A few years later, the first steam ship, The Fulton, was built at the shipyard. Over the next several years, numerous other vessels were created, and more than 400 ships were bought from various different companies.
As the demand for space heightened as Brooklyn Navy Yard continued to buy and build vessels, the shipyard expanded to include additional shops and docks. World War I resulted in the yard building the Tennessee naval ship, but ship production slowed down significantly for about a decade afterwards. When World War II began, however, more than 70,000 people were working at the shipyard, including technicians, builders, mechanics and more.
It was during World War II that asbestos was used the most at Brooklyn Navy Yard. In fact, it was typical on any given day for thousands of people to work around the toxic mineral. In addition to asbestos mixed into machinery, products, and equipment, a multitude of workers wore aprons, leggings, and other work gear that contained asbestos.
In 1966, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was closed down by New York’s Secretary of Defense in an attempt to cut costs. A few years later, however, the City of New York reopened it as a private corporation.
Asbestos Products at Brooklyn Navy Yard
Along with asbestos in machinery, products, work gear, and insulation, an onsite pipe shop at Brooklyn Navy Yard manufactured asbestos-containing cloths. The cloths were used as insulation for steam and water piped on ships, as well in the shipyard’s central power plant and boiler shop.
The pipe shop onsite at the shipyard used asbestos in the lagging it manufactured. That cloth was then used to act as insulation around hot water and steam pipes in the vessels that were repaired at the shipyard. The boiler shop and the central power plant also used asbestos-containing material produced on premises as insulation.
Safety Measures at Brooklyn Navy Shipyard
It’s important to note that Brooklyn Navy Shipyard took precautions to help protect workers around asbestos, yet, it still wasn’t enough to stop thousands of people developing asbestos-related diseases. Some of the safety measures included providing safety masks, safety goggles, and large exhaust fans to help blow out asbestos and magnesia dust.
Workers were also provided ample water at the job site to help wash and rinse off asbestos fibers.
In addition, the U.S. Public Health Service issued a list of recommendations to Brooklyn Navy yard in regards to keeping workers as safe as possible, which included various suggestions such as advising workers to get chest x-rays every six months or every year, depending upon the job function. For example, it was recommended that sandblasters get semi-annual chest X-rays while anyone who worked around asbestos should get chest X-rays every year.
Brooklyn Navy Shipyard Today
Shortly before Brooklyn Navy Shipyard closed in 1966, an engineering student created a detailed plan for converting it into a commercial shipyard with the purpose of saving thousands of jobs. The plan, however, was never carried out.
Today, the shipyard, screened by a plethora of trees, is a manufacturing and commercial center. Over 200 businesses currently operate at the former shipyard, with around 5,000 employees.One of the businesses includes Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farms, which sits on a 65,000 square feet farm, on top of Building 3. The Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farms offers public and private events, which include tours, workshops, a youth farming program and more.
Another prominent company currently located at the old shipyard include Steiner Studios, a 580,000 square feet, state-of-the-art entertainment production company.
In addition, the shipyard currently has as a museum dedicated solely to the history of Brooklyn Navy Yard, packed with history, photographs, and other memorabilia. Visitors are also allowed tour bus visits and bike rides throughout the campus.
Additional Help and Legal Resources
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