Naval Weapons Station Yorktown Virginia
When the United States entered World War I the US Navy planned to lay a barrage of mines in the North Sea to counter the threat posed by German U-boats and the High Seas Fleet, which had remained largely in port since the Battle of Jutland. Needing an east coast facility for the storage and handling of mines, the United States seized, by eminent domain, nearly 4,000 acres of land on the York peninsula, containing a Du Pont plant which had been built to manufacture and store dynamite.
Originally called the Navy Mine Depot, Yorktown, the site has been built over the years into the sprawling facility responsible for loading and unloading ordnance for ships of the Atlantic fleet. Over thirty tenant commands call the site home, and its two piers service supply, amphibious and surface combatant ships departing for and returning from deployment.
The base expanded rapidly throughout World War I. After the war, the US Navy’s focus on mines shifted to other ordnance. Throughout the 1930’s the site serviced ships arriving and departing the Naval Operating Base at Hampton Roads and ships from other bases and ports.
More growth was accomplished with the rapid enlargement of the fleet during World War II. Although the focus of the US Navy for that war has largely been in the Pacific, at least in the eyes of the general public, the Battle of the Atlantic required large numbers of destroyers, destroyer escorts, and escort carriers to deploy, along with cruisers and battleships.
Ordnance loaded at Yorktown was discharged in the direction of the enemy in North Africa, Italy and France, as well as in the direction of German U-boats throughout the war.
After the war, Yorktown expanded its weapons handing capabilities to include the Navy’s focus on missiles as a primary weapon. Anti-ship torpedoes and mines continue to be in the Navy’s weapons inventory.
Although nuclear weapons have been and are deployed in the Atlantic, it has ever been the Navy’s policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons aboard any ship or station, Yorktown included.
Yorktown remains a facility kept busy by the demands of the Atlantic fleet. Its two piers are seldom empty as the fleet deploys to protect American interests in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Caribbean and other waters around the globe.
Asbestos Exposure at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown
Most of the buildings erected at Yorktown prior to the late 1960’s contain asbestos, often by contract specification. The use of asbestos in the construction industry was widespread in the late 1930’s and through the 1950’s and beyond, due to the superior insulating properties the material exhibits against heat.
Asbestos was used in building insulation, ventilation insulation, pipe insulation, flooring, ceiling tiles, chimney liners, exhaust systems for diesel engines and as a fire retardant, a highly important consideration when handling explosive ordnance.
Many of the office and administrative buildings, heated by boilers and steam pipes, contained asbestos lagging, just as on ships of the period. Although harmless unless damaged, asbestos releases dust into the air which becomes lodged in the lungs. Damaged insulation can easily go unnoticed in buildings, where pipes are often concealed by false walls or equipment.
As with any use of asbestos, those actually manipulating the material stand the greatest risk of harmful exposure. Nonetheless, asbestos was present at the facility in many areas and in many forms.
As recently as 2007, contracts were solicited for the testing of levels of asbestos in the air and ground at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, as well as other facilities in the Hampton Roads area.