Asbestos Use on Submarines

Summary

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

About U.S. Navy Submarines

Submarines play a critical role in the United States Navy, both past and present. The Navy began using submarines in the late 1800s, but it did not rely on the vessels until after World War I. Witnessing the mayhem caused by German U-boats resulted in the military ordering submarines for the fleet.

During World War II, the Navy used submarines to attack enemy merchant and military vessels while also defending American assets. Submarines were also vital for rescuing pilots who ejected from their fighter jets over water during aviation battles.

From the Cold War to the present, submarines have provided the third option in America’s nuclear triad. Submarines are capable of firing ballistic missiles from the sea at targets thousands of miles away. Each vessel can carry several missiles and warheads.

Today’s Navy Submarines

In addition to nuclear deterrence, submarines today perform many jobs from reconnaissance and rescue missions to providing military support and deploying SEAL teams. Some vessels are capable of launching ballistic and guided missiles. All submarines in the U.S. fleet are nuclear-powered.

Today, the U.S. Navy has over 65 submarines in its fleet and more in production.

The four different classes of submarines are:

  • Los Angeles
  • Ohio
  • Seawolf
  • Virginia

Construction continues on new submarines as old vessels reach the end of their lifetimes. Approximately one new submarine enters the fleet each year.

Asbestos Use in Navy Submarines

Beginning in 1922, the U.S. Navy listed asbestos as a required building material for new submarines.

Its lightweight, heat-resistant and anti-corrosive nature made asbestos a miracle product aboard submarines. By 1939 and the onset of WWII, the Navy prioritized asbestos stockpiling for the war effort and used it in every submarine.

Since 1950, most U.S. Navy submarines commissioned were nuclear-powered. The nuclear reactor and high-tech equipment create high temperatures, making asbestos a useful product for fireproofing and insulation.

Two shipbuilders produced all active Navy submarines: General Dynamic and Huntington Ingalls. Navy veterans and civilian workers who spent time at these sites may have been exposed to asbestos.

Types of Asbestos Products Used in Submarines

Navy veterans who served aboard any U.S. submarine built before the 1980s may have been exposed to asbestos. Many products used chrysotile and amosite asbestos types for vessel construction and the equipment inside.

Submarine products that used asbestos include:

  • Pipe insulation
  • Structure insulation
  • Boiler lining and insulation
  • Valves
  • Gaskets
  • Packing products
  • Power cables
  • Rope and twine
  • Inside and outer deck flooring
  • Tape and adhesives
  • Fire retardant
  • Sealants and paint

Asbestos was also used in veterans’ uniforms, gloves and work gear. Fireproof clothing is vital for sailors working around high temperatures.

High Asbestos-Risk Occupations in Submarines

Asbestos put all veterans aboard submarines at risk before the harmful material was banned in 1989. However, some occupations posed a higher threat of exposure. Sailors, along with workers involved with construction, repair and demolition, were most likely to handle asbestos directly and inhale or ingest the airborne fibers.

The highest-risk occupations for veterans serving aboard submarines or who helped during construction include:

  • Boiler room workers
  • Painters
  • Electricians
  • Mechanics and maintenance workers
  • Pipefitters and plumbers
  • Welders and metalworkers
  • Engine room technicians
  • Torpedo and weapon crews

The cramped quarters aboard submarines caused greater-than-usual disturbance of asbestos fibers as sailors bumped into walls and walked the same stretch of flooring every day. Over time, the material wears down and the fibers become airborne.

With little ventilation inside the vessel, veterans had no choice but to inhale the asbestos fibers.

Help for Navy Veterans With Mesothelioma

Veterans who bravely served the United States Navy and spent time around submarines may have been exposed to asbestos. If you were at risk of exposure, it’s important that you visit your doctor for regular screenings for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions.

Navy veterans who were exposed to asbestos while serving and developed mesothelioma can file for compensation through Veterans Affairs. Contact our VA-Accredited Claims Representatives today for help filing your VA claim.

View Author and Sources
Sources
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  3. NTI, “United States Submarine Capabilities.” Retrieved from http://www.nti.org/analysis/articles/united-states-submarine-capabilities/. Accessed on April 18, 2018.
  4. Shipbuilders Council of America, “U.S. Navy Shipbuilding.” Retrieved from https://shipbuilders.org/us-navy-shipbuilding. Accessed on April 18, 2018.
  5. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Asbestos.” Retrieved from https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/asbestos/index.asp. Accessed on April 18, 2018.
  6. U.S. Navy, “Vessels.” Retrieved from https://www.navy.com/life-in-the-navy/vessels. Accessed on April 18, 2018.
  7. The Expert Institute, “Nuclear Submarine Machinist Gets Mesothelioma From Asbestos Exposure.” Retrieved from https://www.theexpertinstitute.com/case-studies/nuclear-submarine-machinist-gets-mesothelioma-asbestos-exposure/. Accessed on April 18, 2018.

Last modified: May 24, 2018