The Danger of Asbestos in California

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was commonly mined, produced, and consumed in California and the rest of the U.S. throughout the 1900s. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed the mineral as a carcinogen in 1970, at the height of its use.

Asbestos, known for its durability and heat resistance, was used as insulation and in building materials. Its versatility made asbestos a significant part of California’s economy. The state used asbestos along its coastline in Navy ships and shipyards, exposing the toxic mineral to thousands of people.

A form of cancer called mesothelioma can develop in the linings of the lungs, abdomen, or thoracic cavity up to several decades after initial asbestos exposure. Once airborne asbestos fibers become inhaled or ingested, they cannot be removed, and the risk of developing cancer increases.

Asbestos Use in California Industries

In California, 45 out of 58 counties contain naturally occurring deposits of asbestos. For a majority of the 1900s, the mineral made its way across multiple markets throughout California.

This is an icon representing a shipyard.

Shipyards

Along the coastline of California, around 20 major shipyards integrated asbestos into their ships’ insulation, pipes, flooring, and walls.

Some of the Golden State’s shipyards include:

  • Alameda Works Shipyard in Alameda was once one of the largest shipyards in the U.S. It was built in the early 1900s and was later purchased by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation – an asbestos-using company.
  • California Shipbuilding Corporation in the Los Angeles Terminal Island is also known as Calship. Shipbuilding operations eventually manufactured many ships for the U.S. Navy during World War II.
  • Long Beach Naval Shipyard also built ships for the Navy, but the yards closed in 1997. Californians working the yards had a high risk of asbestos exposure during its operation.
  • Marinship Shipyards in Sausalito was founded during World War II (when asbestos-containing material use was at its highest point).
  • The Richmond Shipyards in Richmond built more ships during WWII than any other shipyard. Metalworking and other hazardous activities subjected countless employees to airborne chemicals.
  • Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company (also known as Todd Pacific Shipyards, Los Angeles Division) operated from 1917 to 1989. Production peaked between the 1960s and 1970s and once more in 1983 before it was closed.


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Oil Industry

The oil industry across California used asbestos throughout the drilling and delivery of oil. The state currently operates over 20 offshore oil platforms and 21 oil refineries, many of which were built using asbestos.

Old and decaying oil rigs span areas from Kern to Los Angeles. They have been described as California’s “toxic multibillion-dollar problem.”


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Power Plants

California is home to numerous industrial plants that used asbestos as insulation. These kinds of power plants include:

  • Biomass
  • Coal
  • Geothermal
  • Hydroelectric
  • Nuclear
  • Solar
  • Wind


This is an image representing mining.

Mining

Since the 1800s, and the region’s gold rush, mining was a popular occupation and hobby. Natural deposits of asbestos are located throughout the whole state, including some of the largest sites in the world. Traces of asbestos has also been found in coal, talc, gold, and copper mines.

At one time, some counties held dozens of mines. Others had hundreds of mines in operation.

County Number of Mines
Calaveras 2,715
Ed Dorado 2,599
Placer 1,392
Siskiyou 2,211
San Bernardino 3,161

Who’s at Risk?

The use of asbestos-containing products puts thousands of California workers at risk. The most common occupations that come into contact with asbestos are:

  • Auto mechanics
  • Asbestos plant manufacturers
  • Boiler workers
  • Brick masons
  • Carpenters
  • Construction workers
  • Demolition workers
  • Drywall workers
  • Electricians
  • Factory workers
  • Firefighters
  • Industrial plant workers
  • Insulators
  • Machine operators
  • Mill workers
  • Military personnel and veterans
  • Miners
  • Painters
  • Pipefitters
  • Plumbers
  • Power Plant workers
  • Railroad workers
  • Roofers
  • Sailors
  • Shipyard workers
  • Steel mill workers
  • Teachers
  • Tile setters

Men and women who serve in the military are also put at a greater risk of asbestos exposure. California is home to 32 U.S. military bases from every branch of service. Military occupations at risk of asbestos exposure include:

This is an icon representing the air force.

California’s joint military bases include:

  • Los Alamitos Joint Forces in Los Alamitos
  • San Joaquin Depot Joint Operations San Joaquin County

Air Force

  • Aircraft handler
  • Aircraft Mechanic
  • Electrical systems specialist
  • Environmental systems specialist
  • Fire control technician
  • Metalsmith

USAF installations in the state include:

  • Beale Air Force Base in Maryville
  • Edwards Air Force Base in Edwards
  • Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo
  • March Air Reserve Base Air Force in Riverside
  • McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento
  • Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield
  • Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc


This is an icon representing the army.

Army

Army camps in the state include:

  • Camp Haan Army Base in Riverside
  • Camp Parks PRFTA Army Base in Dublin
  • Camp Roberts Army Base in Monterey
  • Camp San Luis Obispo Army Base in San Luis Obispo
  • Fort Irwin Army Base in Barstow
  • Fort Hunter Liggett Army Base in Monterey
  • Presidio Of Monterey Army Base in Monterey
  • Sierra Army Depot Army Base in Herlong


This is an image representing the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard

Coast Guard bases in the state include:

  • ISC Alameda Coast Guard Base in Alameda
  • Tracen Petaluma Coast Guard Base in Petaluma


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Marine Corps

Marine Corps bases in the region include:

  • Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base in San Diego
  • Camp Pendleton’s Camp Talega Part of San Diego
  • MCAS Miramar Marine Corps Base in San Diego
  • MCLB Barstow Marine Corps Base in Barstow
  • MCRD San Diego Marine Corps Base in San Diego
  • Mountain Training Center Marine Corps Pickel Meadows
  • Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Twentynine Palms


This is an icon representing the navy..

Navy

  • Boatswain’s mate
  • Damage controlman
  • Gunner’s mate
  • Hull maintenance technician
  • Machinery repairman
  • Machinist’s mate
  • Metalsmith
  • Pipefitter
  • Radioman
  • Seabee
  • Water tender
  • Welder

U.S. Navy bases include:

  • Chocolate Mountain Range Navy in Chocolate Mountain
  • Military Ocean Terminal Concord Navy Base Concord
  • NAS Lemoore Navy Base in Lemoore
  • NAS Point Mugu Navy Base in Poing Mugu
  • Naval Air Facility Navy Base in El Centro
  • Naval Base Coronado Navy Base in San Diego
  • Naval Battalion Center Navy Base in Port Hueneme
  • Naval Hospital Pendleton Navy Base Camp Pendleton
  • Naval Medical Center Navy Base in San Diego
  • Naval Postgraduate School Navy Base in Monterey
  • NAWS China Lake Navy Base in China Lake
  • North Island Naval Complex Navy Base in San Diego
  • NS San Diego Navy Base in San Diego
  • NWS Seal Beach Navy Base in Seal Beach
  • Point Loma Navy Base in San Diego


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California Superfund Sites and High-risk Areas

Ships line the shores of California, most of which are located near Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. The EPA names certain contaminated sites consisting of hazardous waste such as asbestos to its Superfund list.

Congress established Superfund, formally known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), in 1980. Under CERCLA, the EPA funds the cleanup of each contaminated site and its adjacent communities. California consists of several asbestos Superfund sites.

Atlas Asbestos Mine – Coalinga, California

The Atlas Asbestos Mine occupies about 435 acres of land in California. From 1963 until 1979, operation of the mine took place, mining and processing extensive amounts of asbestos. Years of operation lead to contamination in the air, surface water, sediment, and soil in surrounding areas.

George Air Force Base – Victorville, California

During War II, the United States established the George Air Force Base on 5,347 acres of California land. The purpose of the base was to provide training for aircrews and maintenance personnel, in which they disposed of hazardous materials like asbestos. In 1990, the EPA began mandating the cleanup of the site.

South Bay Asbestos Area – Alviso, California

The South Bay Asbestos Area site contained three landfills that received asbestos wastes from an asbestos-cement pipe manufacturer from 1953 to 1982. The EPA mandated cleanup of the site, which is still monitored for asbestos today.

Bethlehem Steel Shipyard – San Francisco, California

Bethlehem Steel Shipyard is one of the oldest shipyards in the state. Founded in 1849 as the Union Brass and Iron Works, the shipyard was a major construction site for warships on the West Coast. Following World War II, the shipyard shifted to a repair site, where toxic asbestos contaminated the site.

Naval Base San Diego – North Island Shipyard

The North Island Shipyard became the main port for aircraft carriers in the Pacific Fleet shortly after its establishment in 1910. The naval base quickly became one of the largest U.S.-operated bases, exposing asbestos to people for decades.

Long Beach Naval Shipyard – Terminal Island

In 1940, Terminal Island became home to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. For 57 years, the shipyard operated near Los Angeles. Over the years, many of the ships exposed asbestos to many individuals.

San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard – Mare Island and Hunter’s Point

The Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard combined operations with the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1965 to create the San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard. Five years later, Hunter’s Point left, while the Mare Island Naval Shipyard operated until 1996. Both sites contributed to the exposure of asbestos in insulation, gaskets, and wastes throughout the shipyard.

Asbestos in California Homes

Before 2004, Many homes in California were built will asbestos-containing products. Insulation products, popcorn ceilings, vinyl floor tiles, textured paints, and other materials in homes built in the last 50 years commonly contained asbestos.

Federal law does not require the seller of a home to disclose that their home contains asbestos, putting potential buyers at risk of asbestos exposure.

California Asbestos Regulation

The EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulate the exposure of asbestos around workers. The EPA enforces regulations in favor of protecting the general public from hazards. Within the state, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), also known as Cal/OSHA, directs the handling of asbestos-containing materials and employee health. For instance, employers with buildings constructed before 1979 that are known to contain asbestos must inform employees.

Likewise, residential property sellers must disclose real estate issues like asbestos contamination prior to the sale or transfer of title. In addition to asbestos, sellers must disclose other carcinogenic contamination like lead-based paints.

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