United States Navy Amphibious Warships

Like every American military vessel built between the late 1930s and the early 1980s, the Navy’s amphibious warships were stuffed full of asbestos. For Navy veterans of that era, there was no escaping exposure to asbestos-containing materials (ACM).

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About US Amphibious Warships

The United States Navy is the world’s most technologically advanced and equipped naval force. The U.S. Navy employs over 325,000 personnel delegated to active service with another 107,000 held in the Navy reserves. The Navy has over 430 commissioned military ships and hundreds more support craft. That includes 3,700 various jets, propeller planes, and helicopters. Many of these military fighting vessels are classed as amphibious warships.

Amphibious ships are a special design. Their purpose serves a bridge between open-water sea performance and delivering armed combat troops onto land. Amphibious ships are called “gator freighters” because they’re as at-home by the land as they are in the water. Amphibious ships also serve to support civilian operations like disaster relief, humanitarian evacuations and delivering essentials like food, water, clothing, and fuel.

The Navy didn’t possess any amphibious ships before World War II. When it became obvious America would be involved in the sea and land-based military operations in Europe and the Far East, the U.S. Navy commenced a massive shipbuilding effort. Many of these vessels were newly-designed amphibious ships made to transport, land and equip ground forces.

These multi-role warships evolved with the times and requirements. Many amphibious warships served as light aircraft carriers as well as landing craft. By the Korean and Vietnam wars, amphibious ships hosted helicopter attack squadrons as well as vertical take-off Harrier jump-jets.

These are the amphibious warship classes used by the U.S. Navy:

  • Wasp Class (LHD): Landing Helicopter Dock ships.
  • Tarawa Class (LHA): Landing Helicopter Attack ships.
  • San Antonio Class (LPD): Landing Platform Docks.
  • Aircraft Support (LSD): Landing Support Dick ships.
  • Amphibious Command (LCC): Logistics, Communications and Coordinating ships.

The most advanced amphibious warships in today’s navy are the America class vessels. The USS Tripoli is an all-out attack ship housing the Marines F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It’s huge with a crew of 1,200 and capable of deploying 1,800 ground troops.

Asbestos Use in Navy Amphibious Warships

Navy architects and shipbuilders loved their ACM and specified it everywhere they could in amphibious warships.

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Primarily, asbestos was used in Navy ships because it wouldn’t burn. Fire was a constant threat in vessels filled with flammable fuel and under bombardment. Asbestos was also great insulation and sound-deadening material. ACM wouldn’t rust, which was a bonus in saltwater, and it was excellent electrical coating from being non-conductive. Asbestos strengthened other products, lightened their weight and wouldn’t chemically react. Navy procurers liked ACM because it was cheap, easy to find and simple to use.

What these Navy designers and administrators didn’t count for was how dangerous airborne asbestos fibers was to their veterans’ long-term health. Navy vets from the asbestos period have the highest rate of developing mesothelioma than any other group. Many Navy vets worked for years on end in asbestos-laden environments. Sadly, they didn’t know the risk until 10 to 50 years later when mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases struck them.

Types Asbestos Products Used in Amphibious Warships

Over 300 different ACM products were used in building amphibious warships. These shipbuilding components were utilized across the Navy, and every piece presented health risks to those vets anywhere near ACM.

The most common Navy vessel products were:

  • All insulation materials including spray-on, loose-fill, rigid, block and wrapping
  • Boiler room protection like blankets and fire shields
  • Deck tiles and ceiling panels
  • Electrical cable coatings and panel liners
  • Ammunition hold protective panels
  • Pipe and fuel line covers
  • Valves, packings, gaskets, and seals
  • Cement powder and mortar mixes
  • Paint, adhesives and caulking
  • Cables and ropes
  • Welding rods and protective equipment
  • Firefighting suits
  • Friction devices like transmission plates and brake surfaces

High Asbestos-Risk Occupations on Amphibious Warships

Every Navy veteran who worked on or around an amphibious warship built with ACM was at risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. Their risk degree depended on the length of exposure time, the quantity of airborne particles and the specific asbestos type.

These were Navy occupations having the highest asbestos exposure risk:

  • Firefighters
  • Engine room and boiler tenders
  • Insulators
  • Electricians, plumbers, and pipefitters
  • Gunners and munitions specialists
  • Tile setters and mortar mixers
  • Machinists, mechanics, and millwrights
  • Painters and plasterers
  • Welders
  • Metal Fabricators
  • Refitters and demolition workers

Help for Navy Veterans with Mesothelioma

United States Navy veterans who served on these older amphibious warships had a high likelihood of developing mesothelioma. Some advancement has been made in controlling mesothelioma. However, most veterans look for financial help and healthcare benefits that improve their quality of life. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) assists Navy veterans with mesothelioma by providing pension assistance and offering a number of healthcare benefits.

Veterans also have an option outside of VA that doesn’t take away from government-supplied assistance. These vets retain specialized mesothelioma attorneys to negotiate compensation settlements, access bankrupt asbestos companies’ trust funds and source payment from workers compensation insurance claims.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Stephanie KiddWritten by:


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.

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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