Every United States Navy aircraft carrier built from the 1930s until the 1980s contained tons of asbestos-containing materials (ACM). Some of the big carriers contained nearly 1,000 tons of asbestos.
About US Navy Aircraft Carriers
The United States Navy has the world’s most powerful and capable fleet of aircraft carriers. Carriers are the backbone of America’s military strike force. They’re quickly deployed to trouble spots and have an undefeatable offensive and defensive ability. The U.S.Navy has more than thirty aircraft carriers that control over 3,700 different planes from fast fighter jets to search and rescue helicopters.
America began building aircraft carriers before World War I when naval aviation was in its infancy. World War II saw an immense change in sea power when the agile and versatile carrier force replaced the battleship as the leading tactical and strategic military sea operation. Since then, the United States Navy has focused on increasing aircraft technology with two new nuclear ships under construction. Their budgets are in the billions of dollars each.
United States aircraft carriers served the nation in every twentieth and twenty-first-century military engagement. Carriers conquered the Pacific theater in the 1940s and became prominent in Korea, Vietnam, and Cold War protective assignments. Even in-land conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq depended on U.S. aircraft carrier support. So does the ongoing war on terror and deterrence from aggressive foreign nations like North Korea.
Today’s big American aircraft carriers are floating cities housing thousands of personnel. Active service carriers range in size from fleet centerpieces to smaller support carriers with specialized aircraft. Over the last century, America developed different aircraft carrier classes that were alphabetically identified.
These carrier vessel (CV) letters identify U.S. Navy carrier types:
- CVA: Attack aircraft carriers.
- CVAN: Nuclear-powered attack aircraft carriers.
- CVB: Large aircraft carriers.
- CVL: Small aircraft carriers.
- CVN: Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
- CVT: Training aircraft carriers.
- CVS: Anti-submarine warfare support aircraft carriers.
The U.S. Aircraft fleet is divided into individual classes or advancements in ship design and technology. World War II saw victories with the Independence class followed by the Kitty Hawk series. The USS Nimitz ushered in the nuclear age and remains in service. Now, highly-sophisticated Gerald R. Ford class carriers are being constructed.
Asbestos Use in Navy Aircraft Carriers
The US Navy’s floating airbases had asbestos everywhere and for good reason, back then. Asbestos was seen as the best fireproofing and insulation material ever found in shipbuilding.
Aircraft carriers were extreme fire risks. Planes were loaded with highly-flammable aviation fuel and the carriers’ hold contained millions of gallons of gasoline, oil and diesel fuel. Asbestos wouldn’t burn no matter what the conditions. ACM was also thermally inert and made excellent insulation as well as soundproofing. Asbestos strengthened and lightened other products. Plus, ACM was cheap, easy to install and widely sourced.
By the 1980s, the Navy remedied its asbestos addiction. Navy officials were aware for years how dangerous asbestos exposure was to their veterans’ health. Aircraft carriers loaded with asbestos were stripped of ACM, decommissioned, scrapped and even sunk during nuclear bomb tests. Today, asbestos use onboard U.S. aircraft carriers has been discontinued or severely curtailed. Unfortunately, thousands of Navy vets suffered asbestos exposure on the carriers and eventually developed diseases like mesothelioma.
Types Asbestos Products Used in Aircraft Carriers
United States Navy aircraft carrier used over 300 different products made with ACM. Every Navy sailor and shore worker had exposure to airborne asbestos fibers if they worked around carriers from 1935 to 1980.
These are some types of asbestos products used in aircraft carriers:
- Spray-on, block, loose-fill and pipe-wrap insulation
- Firewall and heat control products
- Boiler liners and blankets
- Gaskets, valves, and packing
- Paint, sealant, caulking and adhesive
- Electric wire coating
- Floor and ceiling tiles
- Cement and mortar powder
- Ropes and cables
- Fireproof protective clothing
- Welding rods
- Fireproof paper and underlayment
High Asbestos-Risk Occupations on Aircraft Carriers
Although asbestos products were extensively used in all aircraft carrier construction areas, certain occupations had higher risk for dangerous asbestos exposure than others. That depended on the number of asbestos fibers they were exposed to, the duration of exposure and the specific asbestos materials type.
These were the highest-risk occupations for veterans serving around U.S. Navy aircraft carriers:
- Firefighters and temperature control personnel
- Welders and metal fabricators
- Boilermakers and tenders
- Electricians, plumbers and steamfitters
- Insulators, painters and wallboard installers
- Engine and propulsion room technicians
- Weapons specialists
- Hull maintenance workers
- Mechanics, millwrights and machinists
U.S. Navy veterans who served onboard or around aircraft carriers containing asbestos have a high risk of developing diseases like mesothelioma. This terrible cancer has a long latency period from the time of exposure to when disease symptoms present. This can be anywhere from 10 to 50 years after a veteran had duty-related asbestos exposure. Controlling a late-stage mesothelioma case is difficult, but veterans can be financially compensated and receive their eligible healthcare benefits.