Asbestos Used on United States Navy Ships

Summary

Shipbuilding technology also advanced during the war with new navigation and weapons systems being drastically improved. But, shipbuilding materials and construction techniques barely changed. Most of these products and processes were already well-proven. That especially applied to asbestos as the Navy then thought it was the miracle material for shipbuilding.

About U.S. Navy Ships

The United States Navy maintains one of the world’s largest seafaring military forces. The U.S. Navy currently has over 325,000 active-service personnel supported by 107,000 naval reservists. Multiple navy bases are strategically placed across American coasts, and the Navy continuously operates ships in waters around the world. That includes a fleet of carriers with 3,700 various aircraft and a stealthy force of nuclear submarines.

The U.S. Navy’s ship complement is far less today than in its peak period. At the end of World War II, the American navy recorded an inventory of over 6,700 ships in all sizes. Most were decommissioned post-war and either converted to merchant marine vessels or sold as scrap. Navy shipbuilding expanded seventeen-fold from 1939 to 1945. The American war contribution in Atlantic and Pacific theaters demanded that military and civilian supply ships be constructed at a frantic rate.

Asbestos Use in Navy Ships

MJN Brief

Asbestos-containing materials (ACM) were in every United States Navy ship built from the 1930s to the 1970s. There were no exceptions. Fire was a significant concern in ships loaded with fuel that were highly-heated and vulnerable to attack. Asbestos materials wouldn’t burn under any conditions.

Asbestos was thermally inert and made perfect insulation for steam pipes and fuel lines. ACM was non-conductive, so it coated miles of electrical cables throughout the ships. It didn’t corrode, was lightweight and added strength to other products. Asbestos was also economical, readily available and stable to work with.

These are some of the over 300 ACM products and places used in building Navy ships:

  • Boilers, fireboxes, and liners
  • Pumps, valves, and hydraulics
  • Gaskets, packings, sealants, and adhesives
  • Spray-on, block, batt and loose-fill insulation
  • Pipe and duct wrappings
  • Electrical wire coatings
  • Deck and floor tiles
  • Paint and wallboard
  • Soundproofing materials
  • Capacitors, meters, dielectric paper and relays
  • Instruments and instrument paneling
  • Cement powder and mortar mix

Types of Navy Ships Using Asbestos Products

Not one Navy ship built in the five decades before and after World War II was without asbestos products. Despite health warnings circulating through the Navy Department, almost all Navy personnel and support workers were exposed to airborne asbestos fibers. That included shore workers in shipyards as well as at-sea sailors.

Asbestos products were extensively used on all of these ship types:

By the 1980s, the United States Navy stopped using asbestos products in shipbuilding except for slight exceptions where airborne fiber release could be controlled. The U.S. Navy began an extensive abatement program to remove or contain ACM in all Navy vessels. Many had such extensive networks of asbestos-containing components that it was more practical to sink the ships as target practice rather than strip and refit these aging vessels.

High Asbestos-Risk Occupations on Navy Ships

No one was safe from exposure on a Navy ship built during the asbestos era. However, certain occupations were at greater exposure risk than others. Below-deck sailors and engineers had more prolonged asbestos fiber exposure than open-air personnel. That’s because confined and poorly-ventilated spaces like engine and boiler room trapped friable asbestos particles in dust clouds.

Some of the highest-risk Navy ship occupations for asbestos exposure were:

Help for Navy Veterans with Mesothelioma

The United States Navy veterans form America’s largest group of people who developed mesothelioma from asbestos exposure. These veterans unknowingly breathed in asbestos fibers during their dedicated naval service. Now, long after retirement and discharges, these veterans were struck by a duty-related, disabling disease. They deserve to be compensated.

View Author and Sources
Sources
  1. United States Navy Official Website, General Information, Retrieved from http://www.navy.mil/ Accessed on 10 January 2018
  2. Military.com, “Asbestos Illness Related to Military Service” Retrieved from https://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-benefits/asbestos-and-the-military-history-exposure-assistance.html Accessed on 10 January 2018
  3. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “Asbestos Fact Sheet” Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tfacts61.pdf Accessed on 10 January 2018
  4. Inhalation Toxicology International Forum for Respiratory Research, “Government and Navy Knowledge Regarding Health Hazards of Asbestos: A state of the science evaluation (1900 to 1970)” Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.3109/08958378.2011.643417 Accessed on 10 January 2018
  5. Mesothelioma Veterans Center, “Mesothelioma and Navy Veterans” Retrieved from https://www.mesotheliomaveterans.org/veterans/military/navy/ Accessed on 10 January 2018
  6. Department of Veterans Affairs, War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, “Asbestos Fact Sheet”, Retrieved from https://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/WARRELATEDILLNESS/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf Accessed on 10 January 2018
  7. Department of Veterans Affairs, “I am a Veteran” Retrieved from https://va.gov/opa/persona/index.asp Accessed on 10 January 2018
  8. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Exposure to Hazardous Materials – Asbestos” Retrieved from https://www.vets.gov/disability-benefits/conditions/exposure-to-hazardous-materials/asbestos/ Accessed on 10 January 2018
  9. VA/Vets.gov website, Veterans Disability and Healthcare Benefits”, Retrieved from https://www.vets.gov/ Accessed on 10 January 2018

Last modified: June 7, 2018