The station is noted for several technological advances, including a breakwater pier that allows the station to limit the impact of reflected waves while reducing the environmental impact. Despite such technical advances, the station is also known for environmental hazards from naturally-forming hazardous substances like asbestos.
During the 1930s, the U.S. Navy mandated the use of asbestos because of its industrial benefits and inexpensive cost. Asbestos is found in hundreds of products that were used by the Navy. Exposure to it could have occurred through damaged asbestos-containing materials. Even though no cases of exposure to this material have been reported at Naval Station Everett, some suspect exposure did in fact occur.
A review of asbestos-related cancer among sailors was published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research in 2021. It reviewed a 2020 study showing seafarers from five Nordic countries have more than double the risk of developing mesothelioma compared to the general public.
In 2017, a report was published in the Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health that evaluated the risk of mesothelioma among shipyard workers. The workers who were exposed to a moderate amount of asbestos were about four times more likely to die of mesothelioma. There’s a chance some workers at Everett experienced moderate asbestos exposure.
Potential Asbestos Exposure at Naval Station Everett
No claims of asbestos-related injuries from Naval Station Everett have been filed, either in civil courts or through the Department of Labor. This may partially be attributed to the year when the station was established, which was during a time when asbestos was used less frequently. Therefore, this substance was less of a concern and was believed by many to be banned. Furthermore, exposure isn’t always known and asbestos-related diseases can take 30 to 50 years to manifest.
However, the fact that cases were not filed does not mean that asbestos exposure didn’t occur. Exposure can happen without people realizing it. Experts report that small amounts of asbestos are inhaled by most humans on a regular basis but are small trace amounts that have little bearing on our health.
This station has had its instances of equipment-related hazards in prior decades. There were typically a handful of federal Department of Labor complaints against the Naval Station Everett each quarter. The complaints ranged from unsafe, excess jack loads to misusing proper insulation of electrical equipment. Many of these incidents may have caused asbestos exposure, without station personnel being aware.
In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued new recommendations for the reduction in the use of asbestos and also proposed requirements for asbestos handling. In 1975, the Navy adopted its own safeguards, in direct response to the OSHA rules.
The first set of Navy rules was not tough enough and was replaced by intentionally “comprehensive, aggressive, and effective” asbestos management. The Navy’s new asbestos safety rules were required for all Navy vessels, craft, and industrial facilities. Naval Station Everett was, thus, one of the first major installations originally built to meet asbestos safety standards.
Unfortunately, the second set of Navy guidelines (from 1979) argued that “asbestos does not necessarily pose a risk of exceeding permissible Navy personnel exposure levels…” As a result, the Navy for many years might have accepted some asbestos use, based upon a belief that the asbestos can be safely, tightly bound (“fixed”).
Valve packing was cited as an example of safe asbestos use in the 1979 orders. Ironically enough, the 1979 asbestos guidelines then went on to describe the removal of asbestos as “critical and potentially serious.”
Even with the presence of these potential asbestos hazards, this naval station has also been noted for significant contributions to the Everett, Washington area, and to the entire United States. Naval Station Everett influences the local economy while also shaping the nation’s naval defense.
Contributions by Naval Station Everett
The economics of the station’s contributions can hardly be overstated. The Navy spends nearly $72 million each year in the city of Everett and outlying Snohomish County communities. More than $245 million was spent in annual payroll for sailors and civilian workers, which are funds that will eventually spread throughout the local economy.
With the recent addition of the USS Nimitz, some expect the local economy to further benefit from increased staffing. The naval station is listed as the area’s second biggest employer. From a military perspective, the contribution of Naval Station Everett is also obvious.
This station is only one of six naval bases located on the West Coast and Japan that can have an aircraft carrier battle group. The Navy depends heavily upon on this station and all others. According to one Commander, “Our defense will only be as strong as our maritime strength,” which reflects on the importance of each station within the Navy, like Naval Station Everett.