The U.S. Nuclear Navy Shipyards (NNS) built the first nuclear-powered ship,
the USS Nautilus, which went to sea in 1955. Since that time, the Navy has
developed shipyard nuclear capabilities at Kittery, Maine (near Portsmouth, New
Hampshire); New London, Connecticut; Norfolk and Newport News, Virginia;
Charleston, South Carolina; Mare Island, California; Puget Sound, Washington;
and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. At each of these sites, nuclear-powered ships have
been constructed, overhauled, repaired, refueled, or inactivated. Approximately
700,000 civilians have been employed at these facilities.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has listed or proposed for
listing five sites which include nuclear naval shipyards on the National
Priorities List (NPL): the New London Submarine Base, the Norfolk Naval
Shipyard, the Pearl Harbor Naval Complex, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and the
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Complex.
The New London Submarine Base covers 1,412 acres on the east bank of the
Thames River, at New London, New London County, Connecticut. The area around the
base is mixed industrial, commercial, and residential property. The base was
established in 1916, and it now serves primarily as an operation and support
base for submarine activities in the Atlantic Ocean. According to Navy tests
conducted in 1984, sediment and surface water in and around an area known as
Area A are contaminated with lead, cadmium, 4,4-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethane (DDD),
and 4,4-dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT).
The Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) dates to 1767 and was the largest shipyard
in the world devoted exclusively to ship construction, repair, and overhaul.
Lying along the southern branch of the Elizabeth River near the mouth of
Chesapeake Bay, the shipyard is centrally located in the tidewater region of
southeastern Virginia. Fisheries, wetlands, and other sensitive environments are
located downstream from the site.
The Pearl Harbor Naval Complex occupies at least 6,300 acres in Pearl Harbor
on the Island of Oahu, Honolulu County, Hawaii. Land around the complex supports
agriculture, aquaculture, and industry as well as commercial and residential
usage. The Pearl Harbor Naval Complex began operation in 1901 when the Navy
received an appropriation to acquire land for a naval station. After the
Japanese attack on the base on December 7, 1941, industrial activity at the
complex skyrocketed and 24,000 civilians were employed by mid-1943.
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNS) is located on Seavey Island in the
Piscataqua River in Kittery, York County, Maine. The PNS property also includes
the undeveloped Clark's Island, which is connected by a bridge to Seavey Island.
The Portsmouth shipyard was established in 1690 and became a Navy shipyard in
1800. During its operational history, the shipyard was used for the construction
of ships and submarines. Currently the shipyard overhauls and refurbishes attack
submarines and nuclear propulsion fleet ballistic missile submarines. Dredged
sediment samples collected in the late 1970s near the industrial outfalls were
found to contain elevated concentrations of metals, polychlorinated biphenyls
(PCBs), and other contaminants. In addition, hazardous substances attributable
to PNS are present at elevated levels in wetlands bordering Seavey Island.
The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Complex is located in Bremerton, Washington,
along Sinclair Inlet on Puget Sound, approximately 15 miles west of Seattle. The
Navy has owned and operated facilities at this location since 1891. The complex
consists of a naval shipyard and a naval supply center and employs more than
12,000 people. EPA has identified 58 known or potential sources of contamination
at the complex. In 1990 and 1991, the Navy found elevated levels of heavy
metals, semivolatile organic compounds, PCBs, and pesticides in surface soils,
subsurface soils, and groundwater in a number of areas throughout the complex,
as well as in sediments of Sinclair Inlet adjacent to the shipyard.
What have we learned from studies and assessments of nuclear naval
In a public health assessment for the New London Submarine Base,
the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) determined
that in the past, watercourses downstream from Area A posed a public
health hazard to children who came in contact with sediment contaminated
with DDT and lead. A security fence installed by the Navy now prevents
children from coming in contact with the contaminated sediment, and
therefore the site is no longer a public health hazard.
Based on data the Navy collected from 23 off-base private residential
wells, ATSDR considers the concentration of lead in one of the 23 wells to
be a public health hazard for children and the fetuses of pregnant women.
Sodium levels in six residential wells are of public health concern for
persons on salt-restricted diets.
Five of the six major waste sources at the Norfolk Naval
Shipyard are located along or near Paradise Creek. Analysis of
samples of sediments in Paradise Creek collected in 1986 and 1992 detected
the presence of metals, PCBs, pesticides, and semivolatile organic
compounds in reaches of the creek adjacent to the sources evaluated.
At the Pearl Harbor Complex, tetrachloroethene was
found 15.2 feet below ground surface in one area. Soils beneath the site
are permeable, facilitating movement of contaminants into groundwater.
Approximately 110,700 people obtain drinking water from wells within 2
miles of the six sources.
In 1988, the Navy detected bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate in sediment
samples taken from a national wildlife refuge area that borders an
abandoned Navy landfill. The refuge contains wetlands and is the habitat
for four endangered species. Pearl Harbor and nearby portions of the
Pacific Ocean contain recreational and commercial fisheries; water-contact
recreation areas; wetlands; and habitats for endangered species.
ATSDR has been providing assistance to the Portsmouth Naval
Shipyard since 1993. ATSDR conducted a public health consultation
on possible contamination of local seafood in fiscal year 1995. Agency
analysis concluded that fish and shellfish from the areas near the
shipyard do not present any health hazard to the general population. ATSDR
made specific recommendations regarding maximum consumption levels for
subsistence consumers and pregnant and nursing mothers.
Community Health Studies and Activities
ATSDR has evaluated information in the Connecticut Tumor Registry Data
Base to determine if an elevated cancer incidence exists within the towns
of Groton and Ledyard near the New London Submarine Base.
In Groton and Ledyard, in the male "all types" category (all
types of cancer combined), cancer rates are slightly elevated as compared
to the rate for state of Connecticut.
Studies of the Health of Nuclear Naval Shipyard Workers
A cohort mortality epidemiologic analysis of workers at
the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard completed by the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found no significant excess
mortality from any cause. However, later case-control studies of lung
cancer and leukemia in this group of workers did have positive findings.
Excess lung cancer mortality was associated with external radiation for
workers with cumulative occupational doses of 1.0 to 4.999 rem. These same
workers were also potentially exposed to welding fumes and asbestos. The
relative importance of these three agents in the development of the lung
cancers could not be determined. In the other case-control study,
significant excesses of leukemia were found for welders and electricians.
In an unpublished study, Matanoski et al. completed an epidemiologic
study of workers at nuclear naval shipyards. Excess numbers of pleural
mesothelioma were observed among radiation and non-radiation
workers. No association was found between ionizing radiation exposures and
risk of death from leukemia or any other type of cancer.
What are the current studies and public health activities at the
nuclear naval shipyards?
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has established restoration
advisory boards at the sites that are listed on the NPL.
There are no ongoing studies of off-site contamination.
Community Health Studies and Activities
There are no community health studies for these sites.
Occupational Health Studies
The NIOSH cohort mortality study of the Portsmouth
Naval Shipyard, a mortality study of civilian employees at PNS, will be
updated through 1997. Through an agreement with the Naval Sea Systems
Command, the cohort has been expanded to include all individuals employed
through 1992. Case-control studies will also be done, as indicated by a
review of the data. The study will also determine whether external
ionizing radiation is related to the risk of death from leukemia or lung
cancer and whether asbestos exposure or other known carcinogens present at
the shipyard are confounding these relationships.
A case-control study for leukemia, the largest of its kind, is exploring
the relationship between external radiation and leukemia
risk among 250 workers with leukemia compared to similar workers without
leukemia. About 250 leukemia deaths have been identified from four
Department of Energy (DOE) sites and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Confounding exposures to internal radiation, chemicals, and
electromagnetic fields will be evaluated for all cases and controls.
NIOSH will contribute study data from PNS workers to an international
collaborative study of nuclear workers in 14 countries. This study is
sponsored by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and is
the largest cancer mortality study ever of nuclear workers.
What are the gaps in our knowledge and what important issues need to
There is a need to determine if wastes released from PNS have resulted
in off-site exposures at levels that could cause adverse health affects.
There is a need to determine whether the current occupational radiation
exposure limits are adequate for radiation workers.
Internal dosimetry of radiation workers is not well characterized or
understood, and the relationship between internal radiation dose and
health effects needs to be evaluated.
Results from ongoing mortality studies need to be evaluated to improve
understanding of the causes of cancer and chronic diseases. Additional
studies can be proposed to focus on a single disease in worker groups.
There is a need to ensure that complete records, including industrial
hygiene and work history data for the various levels of subcontractors at
each site, are available.
The Matanoski cohort mortality study of civilian naval shipyard
employees, including those at PNS, was funded by DOE. The study followed
approximately 700,000 nuclear Navy workers for 13 years, through 1981. An
update of this study at this time would add at least 15 years of mortality
data for this cohort. Recently, the DOE Office of Naval Reactors has
requested that this large study be updated. Following an analysis of
existing information, which has never been published, and related gaps,
NIOSH will ascertain the costs and merits as well as funding mechanisms
for the study. The proposed study would then require approval by the
Advisory Committee for Energy-Related Epidemiologic Research.
The agencies propose to continue the projects already underway which were
New Activities for FY 1999 and FY 2000
There are no new activities planned for FY 1999 and FY 2000.
Activities for Which the Funding Source is External to the Memorandum
of Understanding Between the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services
Within the constraints of available Department of Defense funding, ATSDR
will be conducting public health assessments to evaluate
the potential health hazards, if any, from activities at the Norfolk Naval
Shipyard, the Pearl Harbor Naval Complex, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard,
and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Complex.
ATSDR will provide health consultations to DOD, DOE,
and the community as requested. These consultations will evaluate and
address specific questions regarding site remediation or community