Asbestos Exposure at Shipyards

Shipyards have been the sites of some of the highest levels of asbestos exposure. Asbestos was used in most aspects of shipbuilding. As a result, U.S. Navy personnel and shipyard workers were regularly exposed to asbestos in shipyards and many developed mesothelioma later in life.

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Did Shipyards Put People at Risk of Asbestos Exposure?

A black-and-white photo of a shipyard in Virginia

Yes, anyone who worked in a shipyard between the 1930s and early 1980s was at risk of asbestos exposure.

It's believed that 4.5 million people were exposed to asbestos in shipyards during World War II alone, according to a New York Times report.

Asbestos-containing products were used to build almost every U.S. Navy ship and countless civilian vessels during this time.

Shipyards kicked up so much asbestos dust that workers couldn't see across the room in many cases. This exposure put workers in danger of mesothelioma and other asbestos-caused cancers later in life.

Did you know?

33% of all mesothelioma cases today can be traced back to shipyard work or service in the U.S. Navy.

Thankfully, former Navy or civilian shipyard workers who develop mesothelioma may be eligible for medical care and financial aid. Veterans with mesothelioma may also qualify for life-changing benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Learn about all the benefits available with our Free Veterans Packet. 

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Why Was Asbestos in Shipyards?

Tons of asbestos were used in shipyards to build ships since this substance was so durable and cheap to purchase.

Asbestos-containing insulation helped protect Navy ships and other vessels from combustion and fire damage. Additionally, asbestos-related materials did not corrode or wear down in the sea and were not electrically conductive.

All of these qualities made asbestos an ideal material for shipbuilding. Further, the general public and military weren't aware that asbestos caused cancer as manufacturers of asbestos-based products hid the risks.

Asbestos was found in these shipyard materials and equipment:

  • Boilers
  • Bulkheads
  • Flooring and ceiling materials
  • Gaskets
  • Insulation
  • Lagging cloth
  • Machinery casings
  • Paint and glue
  • Wrapping on high-pressure pipes

Shipyard work involved installing asbestos-containing products such as the ones listed above and replacing older parts as they wore out, which released asbestos fibers into the air.

If a shipyard worker inhaled the small fibers, the tiny shards could get stuck in their body's internal lining. The human body can't break down asbestos fibers. Ultimately, the fibers can cause long-term damage, and mesothelioma tumors could form 10-50 years after exposure.

Asbestos-containing ship parts were used throughout military and civilian ships, putting shipyard workers and U.S. Navy veterans at a high risk of exposure. View where asbestos components were used aboard Navy ships below.

A diagram showing where asbestos could be found on Navy ships

High-Risk Shipyard Asbestos Jobs

Anyone who worked with or around asbestos in shipyards throughout the 20th century was at risk of exposure. That said, some shipyard workers were in greater danger than others.

Shipyard jobs with the highest risk of asbestos exposure included:

  • Boiler workers
  • Civilian contractors
  • Clerical workers
  • Electrical engineers
  • Electricians
  • Government officials and inspectors
  • Insulators
  • Maintenance workers
  • Naval architects
  • Naval officers
  • Nautical and structural engineers
  • Painters
  • Plumbers
  • Steamfitters
  • Tilers
  • Welders

The risks were particularly high among U.S. Navy shipyard workers. Government requirements meant that nearly every Navy ship used asbestos-containing materials aboard.

"If you were in the Navy, you were most likely exposed to asbestos because asbestos was used throughout the ships to insulate the pipes and insulate the boilers."

— Eric Hall (Major USAFR), VA-accredited attorney

Sadly, by the time the risks of asbestos exposure became public knowledge, it was too late for the millions of shipyard workers and Navy personnel exposed to asbestos.

Each year, approximately 1,000 shipyard workers and Navy veterans develop mesothelioma. Many others go on to develop other asbestos-caused diseases like lung cancer or asbestosis due to shipyard work.

Contact us if you suffered asbestos exposure in shipyards and now have mesothelioma. Our team can help you access medical care and financial aid.

List of Asbestos Shipyards

Hundreds of shipyards relied on asbestos-containing products, including dozens controlled by the U.S. Navy. View a partial list of these shipyards below.

  • Avondale Shipyards (Alabama)
  • Barnes Riverside Shipyard (Minnesota)
  • Banks Shipyard (New Jersey)
  • Bethlehem Steel Shipyard (California)
  • Bayou Black Shipyard (Louisiana)
  • Bloodworth Shipyard (Texas)
  • Brunswick Shipyard (Georgia)
  • Charleston Naval Shipyard (Massachusetts)
  • Defoe Shipyard (Michigan)
  • Delair Shipyard (New Jersey)
  • Denton Shipyard (South Carolina)
  • Dravo Shipyard (Delaware)
  • Erie Basin Dry Dock (New York)
  • Eureka Shipyard (New York)
  • Evansville Shipyard (Indiana)
  • Gulf Shipyard (Alabama)
  • Hoboken Shipyard (New Jersey)
  • Howard Shipyard (Indiana)
  • Joliet Shipyard (Illinois)
  • Long Beach Naval Shipyard (California)
  • Long Island Shipyard (New York)
  • Lorain Shipyard (Ohio)
  • Marco Shipyard (Washington)
  • Marietta Shipyard (Ohio)
  • Mayport Naval Shipyard (Florida)
  • Moss Point Shipyard (Mississippi)
  • Newport News Shipbuilding (Virginia)
  • Philadelphia Naval Shipyard (Pennsylvania)
  • Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (Maine)
  • Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (Washington)
  • Quaker Shipyard (New Jersey)
  • Richmond Shipyard (California)
  • Seneca Shipyards (Illinois)
  • Sampson Naval Shipyard (Delaware)
  • Simpson Shipyard (Massachusetts)
  • Smith Shipyard (Florida)
  • Stockton Shipyard (California)
  • Thames Shipyard (Connecticut)
  • Todd Shipyard Portland (Maine)
  • United States Coast Guard Yard (Maryland)

Did you work at a shipyard that's not listed? Our team can still help you access mesothelioma benefits. Get started with a Free Veterans Packet.

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Get information on:

  • Top Treatments
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  • Improving Prognosis

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California Shipyards and Asbestos

California had more shipyards that relied on asbestos than any other state. As a result, mesothelioma is prevalent among former California shipyard workers.

California shipyards that used asbestos include:

  • Bethlehem Steel Shipyard
  • California Naval Shipyard
  • Consolidated Steel Shipyard
  • Fulton Shipyard
  • General Dynamics
  • Hunters Point Naval Shipyard
  • Long Beach Naval Shipyard
  • Richmond Shipyard
  • San Diego Naval Shipyard
  • Moores Dry Dock Company
  • Stockton Shipyard
  • Todd Pacific Shipyards

California is also home to many natural deposits of asbestos. The asbestos was mined and made into products used by the California shipbuilding industry.

New York Asbestos Shipyards

On the East Coast, New York was a major player in the shipbuilding industry, with multiple shipyards across the state. Unfortunately, those who served in these shipyards could have easily been put at risk of asbestos exposure.

The following New York shipyards used asbestos:

  • Arthur Blair Shipyard
  • Atlantic Basin Shipyard
  • Bethlehem Steel Shipyard
  • Blair Shipyard
  • Brooklyn Navy Yard
  • Defoe Shipbuilding Company
  • Robert Jacob Shipyard
  • Jakobson Shipyard
  • Reynolds Shipyard Corporation
  • Todd Shipyard

If you worked in a shipyard in New York or in any other state and now have mesothelioma, you may qualify for compensation — even if the shipyard is not listed above. Contact us now to learn more and get help.

Compensation for Shipyard Workers With Mesothelioma

Shipyard workers who developed mesothelioma can now seek key resources, including VA benefits, financial compensation, and medical care.

Private Compensation for Shipyard Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos was known to be a deadly carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) for decades. This fact was hidden from the public so that asbestos companies could continue making money.

Shipyard workers suffering from mesothelioma can hold these companies accountable by filing asbestos lawsuits or asbestos trust fund claims. The average mesothelioma settlement is about $1 million and payouts often start in 90 days or less.

Health Care

Shipyard workers (or anyone else) with mesothelioma can get medical care from top doctors. Medical experts across the country specifically treat mesothelioma even though the cancer is so rare.

Need help connecting with a mesothelioma doctor? Call (877) 450-8973 now. We can help you find top doctors and treatments faster.

VA Benefits

Shipyard workers who served in the U.S. Navy or any other military branch can file for VA benefits following a mesothelioma diagnosis.

The VA pays out almost $4,000 per month to most veterans with mesothelioma. Further, several top doctors work within the VA's health care network to treat veterans at little to no cost.

We're Here to Help U.S. Shipyard Workers With Mesothelioma

Every year, thousands of people who worked in shipyards decades ago develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses.

These health issues could have been prevented if manufacturers of asbestos-containing products had disclosed the dangerous truth, rather than hiding it to make a profit.

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center proudly helps both eligible veterans and civilians who worked in shipyards access VA benefits, treatments, and financial compensation following a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Learn about all the ways we can help you and your family in our Free Veterans Packet.

Asbestos in Shipyards FAQs

Is there asbestos in shipyards?

Yes. Over 20 different states were home to dozens of shipyards that relied on asbestos between the 1930s and early 1980s.

Any shipyard worker exposed to asbestos could develop mesothelioma or another deadly asbestos-related disease later in life.

For example, cases of shipyard workers with lung diseases and lung cancer are common due to asbestos.

Is asbestos still used in shipbuilding?

Asbestos is no longer used in shipbuilding today due to the health risks. But, prior to the early 1980s, millions of shipyard workers were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis.

It takes 10-50 years to develop mesothelioma after being asbestos exposure, so you could be in danger even if you were exposed long ago.

What are the dangers of working in a shipyard?

Prior to the early 1980s, one of the biggest dangers of working in a shipyard was exposure to asbestos.

Shipbuilding involved removing, installing, and repairing ship components that contained asbestos. These activities could release asbestos fibers and dust into the air, and anyone who breathed in or swallowed them was put at risk of mesothelioma.


Can you sue the U.S. Navy for asbestos exposure?

It's important to understand that mesothelioma lawsuits are not filed against the U.S. Navy or the U.S. government. This is true even though cases of asbestos cancer and Naval shipyards are linked together.

If you file a lawsuit for asbestos exposure in Naval shipyards, the defendant (entity being sued) is the company or companies that supplied the asbestos-containing materials you were exposed to.

You can still apply for mesothelioma VA benefits even if you have filed an asbestos lawsuit.

Is asbestos still used in ships?

Yes. A handful of older ships built in shipyards still contain asbestos.

For example, the USS Mount Whitney had 21 tons of asbestos insulation removed in 2015 — decades after the risks of this substance were known.

That said, most military ships no longer have asbestos aboard. In most cases, the ships in question were either decommissioned or the asbestos-containing products were removed.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

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