Pearl Harbor’s Connection to Asbestos
Listed as a Superfund cleanup site for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Pearl
Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii became a site full of toxic materials including asbestos. The
commonly used insulation was found in and around many parts of the complex, with asbestos
remediation still underway today and posing a risk to those still employed on site. Both civilian
and military personnel on site could come in contact under quite differing circumstances and
have been exposed over the last few decades both knowingly and unknowingly.
As the area now undergoes remediation work, the dangers of asbestos are more well-
known and proper protective equipment and signage is far more abundant. However, until
1980, the dangers of asbestos were not as clearly advertised, and those who encountered it
had no knowledge of the resulting illnesses asbestos exposure can lead to. Shortness of breath
may often be the first signs of asbestos-related illnesses, however the period between exposure
and symptoms can be decades, often leading those ill and the diagnosing doctors to not initially
think of asbestos exposure as the cause.
Civilian workers who were on site may not have had as frequent exposure as that of
military personnel, but the presence of renovations in offices, on-base housing, and facilities
used by non-military personnel all are spots where asbestos flooring, ceiling tiles, insulation,
roofing, joint compound, and paint were utilized.
Additionally, military personnel on base often directly worked with asbestos-laden
products. In the various engineering departments, from mechanical and structural to electrical
and nuclear, these workers would often be using insulated products. Given the cheap cost and
effective insulating abilities of asbestos, it was a common product for those situations. From
wiring, pumps, and valves to boilers, HVAC systems, and other machinery, there was frequent
asbestos exposure, often without protective equipment.