US Naval Submarine Base New London, CT
During the War of 1812, the importance of New London as a site for the basing of naval ships was firmly established. Stephen Decatur sheltered there from the British blockade, fortifying a site across the river at Gales Ferry. After the war the Navy concentrated it presence in New England at Boston.
In 1868 the state of Connecticut donated 112 acres to the Navy for the development of a base in the Thames River. Established as a coaling station for small ships, the yard faced closure by 1912, as the use of oil supplanted coal in the navy’s ships.
The outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 changed that situation, and in 1915 a submarine tender and four submarines arrived at the base. The Navy at that time believed submarines to be useful primarily for coastal defense, and the importance of New London as a base for submarines protecting New York and Boston was recognized. Although the base was (and is) located across the river from New London in Groton CT, the headquarter offices were originally located in the former, hence the base had the name of that city attached.
After World War I the base grew, both in size and strategic importance, and became the home of numerous schools, support facilities, and the home of the growing submarine fleet. The proximity of Electric Boat, builder of many of the navy’s submarines, added to the importance of the site.
The world’s first nuclear powered submarine, USS Nautilus, was built at Electric Boat and commissioned at New London, departing there for its first voyage as well as for the first in which it transited to the North Pole. USS Triton began and ended the first submerged circumnavigation of the globe from the piers of the base.
Today, the base is the home of fifteen attack submarines, officer and enlisted basic submarine school, numerous advanced schools dedicated to submarine equipment and operations, support facilities, warehouses, repair shops, dry docks, and facilities for the recreation and housing of naval personnel and their dependents. The base remains the home of the US Submarine Fleet, and contains several memorials and museums dedicated to its history, including the open to the public USS Nautilus.
Although the base has been slated for closure many times, including as recently as 2005, it continues to operate, although its use as a home for fleet ballistic missile submarines has been discontinued.
Asbestos Exposure at Naval Submarine Base New London
The use of asbestos materials in the construction of ships and submarines was widespread prior to the late 1970’s, primarily as a fire retardant and as thermal insulation. Personnel working at the base or on submarines in port there were routinely exposed to asbestos fibers throughout the period.
During the time of the base’s largest expansion, asbestos was also a favored material in the construction of buildings, including residential facilities, dining halls, schools and training simulators, and recreational facilities. Asbestos was used in flooring materials, roofing materials, ceiling tiles and fireproofing. Asbestos insulation lined heating and ventilation ductwork, pipes for water and steam, and many electrical wired and panels.
Asbestos was used to line boilers for heating buildings, just as it was in those used to create the steam that powered surface ships.
Materials manufactured from asbestos for use in ships were warehoused in facilities located throughout the base, and in temporary storage areas, frequently exposed, near the wharves and piers. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, it would have been difficult to enter a facility on the base where asbestos was not present in some form.