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 war times. While destroyers ensure the safety of America, their prolific use of asbestos before the 1980s has since endangered the lives of many veterans who have served the nation.
About US Navy Destroyers
The United States Navy is recognized for its military might and prowess, in partial thanks to the fearsome destroyer class of ships. Destroyers were built in response to the torpedo ships of the late 1800s, which could launch devastating torpedo attacks at ships and military bases. The U.S. recognized an immediate need to counter these ships and created the “torpedo boat destroyer,” which has since evolved and is now referred to as simply “destroyer.”
Destroyers are relatively short and fast, allowing them to maneuver quickly when posed with a potential threat. In the World War II era, destroyers often accompanied larger ships, including battleships, which couldn’t react with as much agility.
Destroyers would zip ahead of their fleet, destroy other ships quickly and then retreat, clearing the way for larger ships with mightier firepower. However, the advancement of modern weaponry has eliminated the need for these larger ships entirely, as destroyers can now be equipped with missiles and other innovative technologies.
In modern warfare, U.S. Navy destroyers are multi-purpose vessels with missile capabilities. Destroyers can be used independently or as part of a larger military fleet, making them a truly versatile ship.
Today, the military uses only one type of destroyer:
- DDG: Destroyer with guided missile
These destroyers come in two models, the Arleigh Burke and the Zumwalt.
However, additional destroyer types and models were used in previous wartimes, up until 1975:
- DE: Destroyer escort
- DL: Destroyer leader, or “frigate”
- DLG: Frigate with guided missile
- DLGN: Frigate with guided missile & nuclear-propulsion
Asbestos Use in Destroyers
The U.S. Navy used asbestos in abundance, and its rampant application in destroyer ships was no exception. Asbestos was considered a miracle material, serving numerous purposes at once as it insulated, fireproofed and secured ships together. Better yet, it was lightweight and inexpensive, making it the perfect construction material for the Navy’s seaworthy vessels.
In the early 1980s, the military began to recognize and acknowledge the life-threatening hazards of asbestos and phased out its use. Ships, such as destroyers, that used asbestos were cleaned or decommissioned, and a new fleet of asbestos-free vessels took their place.
Unfortunately, for many, the damage was already done. Navy workers who manufactured destroyers, as well as sailors who worked aboard the asbestos-filled vessels, were put at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases, like mesothelioma, every day they came to work. Decades later, many veterans are now facing the consequences of that exposure.
“Workers heavily exposed in the past, particularly before the federal government began to regulate asbestos in the workplace in the late 1960s and early 1970s, may just now be facing serious health effects as a result of their exposure,” — Joseph Califano Jr., Secretary of Health, 1979
Types of Asbestos Products Used in Aircraft Carriers
Hundreds of asbestos-containing materials were used by the U.S. Navy in their ships, including the destroyer classes.
For example, asbestos was used in:
- Insulating walls, ceiling and floors
- Fireproofing, including blankets and protective clothing
- Wires, ropes, cables and rods
- Ceiling and floor tiles
- Paint, caulking, sealants and adhesives
- Valves, gaskets
Asbestos was used abundantly and in many forms, although its use as insulation was the catalyst for infecting entire ships at a time. Insulation could take the form of a spray, loose fill, blocks, or pipe wrapping, allowing it to be applied to virtually any open crevice or space.
High Asbestos-Risk Occupations on Destroyers
Navy personnel who manufactured destroyers or spent their days in areas of the ships with low ventilation are at the highest risk of developing asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma. The occupations put veterans close to the highest concentrations of asbestos-containing materials.
Help for U.S. Navy Veterans with Mesothelioma
U.S. Navy veterans who worked on or near destroyers containing asbestos are at an increased risk of having mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. Because of the nature of mesothelioma, many veterans will only discover their conditions decades after the initial exposure, often with devastating consequences. However, veterans with mesothelioma can receive financial and medical support from VA.
If you served in the U.S. Navy and have since been diagnosed with mesothelioma, get in touch with our VA-Accredited Claims Representatives to begin filing your VA claim.