Asbestos Used on U.S. Navy Ships

Many products used in shipbuilding contained high levels of asbestos. Asbestos-containing materials were used in every United States Navy ship built from the 1930s to the 1970s. Sadly, this means that Navy veterans are at the highest risk of developing these illnesses even now.

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Asbestos Use in Navy Ships

Asbestos products were widely used in almost every Navy ship from the 1930s to the early 1980s.

The mineral was considered to be superior to other forms of insulation because it was: 

  • Lightweight
  • Fire-resistant
  • Corrosion-resistant

Because of these properties, Asbestos was used wherever ships and submarines were made. The Navy used more asbestos than any other branch of the military. 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 force of nuclear stealth submarines.

The U.S. Navy’s ship complement is far smaller today than during its peak period. At the end of World War II, the American Navy recorded an inventory of over 6,700 ships of 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 Exposure and Mesothelioma Risk

Asbestos in Navy ships was just about everywhere. Due to poor air circulation and small compartments on ships, those aboard had a high risk of inhaling asbestos fibers.

When disturbed, asbestos can become airborne for hours. The fibers can stick to the clothing, hair, or skin of anyone nearby. This is how Navy service members spread asbestos to other parts of ships and barracks.

Once asbestos fibers are inhaled, they become lodged in the lungs. This can lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other diseases later in life.

It can take 20-50 years for mesothelioma symptoms to occur after asbestos exposure, so veterans who were exposed decades ago are only now developing mesothelioma.

Asbestos Products on Navy Ships

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.

ACM products used in building Navy ships included:

  • 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
Were You Exposed to Asbestos?

Thousands came into contact with asbestos on a regular basis. Get a free legal case review to find out if you may have been exposed.

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High Asbestos-Risk Occupations on Navy Ships

No one was safe from exposure on a Navy ship built during the time of widespread asbestos use. 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:

  • Engine room technicians
  • Boilermakers and steamfitters
  • Plumbers and pipefitters
  • Electricians
  • Firefighters
  • Gunnery technicians and weapons specialists
  • Mechanics and machinists
  • Welders and steel fabricators
  • Insulators, painters, and panel installers
  • Tile setters
  • Hull maintenance specialists

Types of Navy Ships Containing Asbestos Products

Not one Navy ship built in the 5 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.

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 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.

Aircraft Carriers

Every United States Navy aircraft carrier built from the 1930s until the 1980s contained tons of asbestos-containing materials. Some of the big carriers contained nearly 1,000 tons of asbestos.

Battleships

At one time, battleships were the United States Navy’s backbone. These huge armored vessels formed the core of naval battle fleets and rained devastating firepower on enemy ships and shore batteries.

But battleships were also targets for opposing naval forces and subject to direct shell strikes. To protect the ships and sailors from fire, the U.S. Navy demanded that most interior parts of a battleship be coated in asbestos.

Cruisers

Cruisers are one of the most versatile warships ever used by the United States Navy. The Navy employed different cruiser sizes and forms over the past two hundred years.

Destroyers

United States Navy destroyers play a critical role in the military’s offensive and defensive tactics. The powerful ships protect the nation’s coastlines and provide a significant advantage during wartime.

While destroyers ensure the safety of America, their widespread use of asbestos before the 1980s has since endangered the lives of many veterans who have served the nation.

Frigates

Navy frigates were built with many asbestos-containing components during a time when the extent of asbestos’ dangers was not known. Asbestos was used widely in insulation and machinery on these ships until the discovery of its health risks.

After the knowledge of asbestos’ danger became widespread, there were efforts to remove it from the United States Navy frigates, but the damage had already been done — hosts of Navy workers had been exposed to asbestos-containing products.

Minesweepers

From World War II onwards, Navy minesweepers played an essential role in destroying sea mines and creating safe paths through the ocean. However, due to how these ships were constructed, many sailors and workers may be at risk of developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure.

Submarines

Submarines built before the 1980s contain asbestos throughout the vessel. Navy veterans who served onboard submarines or worked during their construction may have been exposed to asbestos, causing mesothelioma or other illnesses.

Other Ships That Used Asbestos Products

Many other ships widely used asbestos-containing products.

Asbestos products were extensively used on these ship types:

When the Navy finally began to remove asbestos products from the ships in the early 1980s, it was too late for thousands of Navy veterans who were already exposed.

Compensation for Veterans

You bravely served our country — that’s why we’re proud to offer legal support to U.S. military veterans. Start a free case review now.

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Help for Navy Veterans With Mesothelioma

United States Navy veterans form America’s largest group of mesothelioma sufferers. These veterans unknowingly breathed in asbestos fibers during their naval service, especially those aboard ships.

Now, long after their retirements and discharges, many have been struck by a duty-related, disabling disease. They deserve to be compensated.

Veterans who developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos on Navy ships can receive compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Benefits may include:

  • Treatment from VA-affiliated mesothelioma specialists
  • Financial compensation
  • Survivor benefits, funeral benefits, benefits for caregivers, and more

While filing a claim with the VA can provide valuable aid for Navy veterans and their families, the sometimes complicated and time-consuming process may make some veterans hesitate. Our team is here to help you through every step of the VA claims process so that you can receive the compensation you deserve.

To learn more about receiving compensation, start your free case review today.

Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: September 20, 2019

View 9 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
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