Bremerton, WA

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard


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Established in 1891, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard is located next to the city of Bremerton on Sinclair Inlet, about fifteen miles west of Seattle, Washington.  The facility occupies about 350 acres of land and another 340 acres of tidelands that border 11,000 feet of shoreline. The shipyard houses over 300 buildings, six deep water piers and six dry docks.  Until 1945, the shipyard was called Naval Shipyard Puget Sound. 

PSNS was the first facility in the Northwest capable of the dry-dock and repair of the Navy’s largest ships.  Many workers will recall the largest, dry-dock number five, which measured 1,030 feet in length, 147 feet in width and 54 feet in depth.  Dry-dock number three was used primarily as the shipbuilding dock, from which new vessels were first launched by flooding the dock rather than sliding the ships down an incline.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard was devoted during WWI to the construction of new ships and boats used by the Navy.  In the Second World War, however, the facility was almost exclusively relied upon for the repair of ships damaged in battle.  After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, five of the six battleships that survived were sent to PSNS for repair and modernization.  These included: U.S.S. California (BB-44); U.S.S. Maryland (BB-46); U.S.S. Nevada (BB-36); U.S.S. Tennessee (BB-43), and the U.S.S. West Virginia (BB-48).  Twenty-six battleships were repaired at PSNS during World War II, some multiple times.  In addition, workers at the shipyard repaired 18 aircraft carriers, 79 destroyers and 13 cruisers.  Fifty-three new vessels were built and another 400 warships were repaired, overhauled or fitted out.  By the time the war ended in 1945, PSNS employed 32,500 workers and the facility was operating 24 hours a day. 

After the war, the shipyard got its current name – Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS).  Workers shifted from the repair and overhaul of ships to the deactivation of vessels used in the Pacific Fleet.  Many of the guns and equipment were stripped from the ships and the old vessels were sold as scrap metal.  Other vessels were prepared to be “mothballed.”  PSNS also began to convert the flight decks of older aircraft carriers from the traditional style to the angled decks used on newer vessels. 

In the Korean conflict during the early 1950s, PSNS was employed in the activation of ships from the “mothballed” fleet.  Toward the end of that decade, PSNS was once again used for the construction of new ships, including guided missile frigates and nuclear powered submarines.  In 1990, the Navy began to use PSNS for the recycling of nuclear powered ships, a process that requires the deactivation, reactor compartment disposal, and recycling of the vessels. 

In 2003, PSNS was consolidated with the Naval Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Pacific Northwest (in Bangor, Bremerton and Everett, Washington) into one maintenance enterprise. The resulting Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility is the largest Naval shore facility in the Pacific Northwest. 

The repair and overhaul of military vessels is a vital part of the nation’s defense.  But it is also a dirty, dusty job that far too often exposed workers to various hazards, including asbestos dust.  PSNS employees would be required to labor for months on engines, pipes, boilers, valves, pumps, and other equipment – tearing off old asbestos products and then installing new ones.  The process exposed everyone in the area to asbestos, not just the workers doing one particular job.  In fact, many workers unknowingly brought the dangerous dust home on their clothing, further exposing their wives and children.  Such asbestos exposure put everyone at risk for asbestos related diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. 

Mesothelioma is a cancer in the lining of the abdomen, lungs or heart which is virtually always caused by asbestos exposure.  A cure for mesothelioma is as of yet unknown.  The disease has a long latency period, meaning that it takes decades to develop.  As a result, it is often not discovered until the late stages, when the cancer becomes quite aggressive. 

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