Asbestos on Navy Ships

Quick Summary

Those serving on a ship prior to 1980 were most likely exposed to asbestos at some point. This is why Navy veterans make up the highest percentage of mesothelioma patients compared to other branches of the military. There are benefits available for veterans who have developed mesothelioma due to their asbestos exposure.

How Asbestos Was Used on Navy Ships

Over 30% of mesothelioma patients are veterans. Of those veterans, those who served in the Navy and the Coast Guard are at the highest risk of developing mesothelioma. This is because they often served on ships or in shipyards where asbestos was highly used.

Did you know?

The military used asbestos in virtually all its infrastructure until the early 1980s. Asbestos in ships and shipyard environments could be found around every corner.

Small Fleet of United States Navy Ships

Navy ships had asbestos in pipe lagging to insulate pipes, electrical wiring, and even in roofing and flooring tiles.

In places with poor ventilation, asbestos could circulate in the air for hours. Being in enclosed areas like boiler rooms and engine rooms for weeks or months at a time increased the risk of breathing in more asbestos fibers.

Mechanics that served on ships were tasked with fixing ship components such as piping, pumps, and valves. This often put them in direct contact with asbestos insulation and parts.

Further, shipyard workers had to build and tear down ships. This released large amounts of asbestos into the air.

Other rates on Navy ships with a high risk of asbestos exposure included:

  • Boilermen
  • Hull Technicians
  • Machinist Mates
  • Pipefitters
  • Shipyard Workers

It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the U.S. military recognized the health risks associated with asbestos exposure.

Since then, the military has removed asbestos from the majority of its infrastructure, though it was impractical to remove all of it. Asbestos still remains in some older ships and buildings. Fortunately, asbestos is not a health risk if it is not disturbed.

Navy Veterans At Risk

Asbestos was used by all branches of the military. However, Navy veterans have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma.

The majority of mesothelioma cases are from extended exposure to asbestos. However, even the VA admits that brief and indirect asbestos exposure could lead to mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma symptoms appear 20-50 years after exposure to asbestos. Veterans in the Navy that worked in ships in World War II and the Vietnam and Korean Wars are at the highest risk for developing the disease.

Rates on Navy ships with the highest risk of asbestos exposure included:


Boilermen work on the steam boilers that propel Navy ships. Most of the boiler was either made of or insulated with asbestos. Often, these technicians wore gloves laced with asbestos in addition to using asbestos gaskets during maintenance.

Machinist’s Mates and Enginemen

Machinist’s mates and enginemen are responsible for servicing the engines and other equipment that powers a ship. They repair turbines, valves, pumps, steam systems, high and low-pressure drains, and heating and air conditioning systems. They also repair components of the main engines or diesel engines and generators.

Working in engine rooms for long periods of time exposed these workers to asbestos from piping, insulation, adhesives, and gaskets.


Navy pipefitters were exposed to asbestos through the piping that they worked on. Pipefitters would often have to remove and reinstall asbestos insulation on the systems to perform repairs.

Hull Maintenance Technicians

Hull maintenance technicians (HTs) are responsible for installing and repairing metal infrastructures such as valves and sanitation and plumbing systems around the ship. They often worked around asbestos-containing insulation and pipe gaskets.

HTs are also usually the Navy’s welders, often removing asbestos insulation before performing a welding repair.

High-Risk Jobs on Coast Guard Ships

Much like the Navy, Coast Guard vessels heavily relied on asbestos products. Because of this, Coast Guard personnel who served aboard these vessels also have a high risk of developing mesothelioma.

The most at risk jobs in the Coast Guard for asbestos exposure are:

  • Construction and demolition jobs: Asbestos was used as insulation, but also in the materials that construction and demolition workers would have used. When disturbed, asbestos is released into the air. This could occur when installing or removing asbestos-containing materials.
  • Installing and repairing ship components: When mechanics worked on ship components, they would routinely come in contact with asbestos. When they dealt with asbestos materials such as gaskets, valve packing, or insulation, asbestos fibers would release into the air. When the asbestos was released into the air, it would remain airborne for hours.
  • Building new parts for ships: Because it was used in so many different ship parts, it is highly possible that shipyard workers were exposed to asbestos. In shipyards, the building, overhauling, and decommissioning of ships released massive amounts of asbestos into the air where hundreds of people worked.

Did you know?

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Even people with brief exposure can develop mesothelioma.

According to the National Cancer Institute, “it is clear that the health risks from asbestos exposure increase with heavier exposure and longer exposure time.” Therefore, breathing in larger amounts of asbestos in a confined space like an engine room increases your cancer risk.

Where Asbestos Could Be Found On Ships

In ships, asbestos was used in hundreds of different capacities. Because the material was cheap and very effective at fireproofing ship components, it became quite common.

Asbestos could be found in engine rooms, boiler rooms, navigation rooms, mess halls, and sleeping quarters.

Here are some of the components inside those rooms which contained asbestos:

  • Adhesives
  • Bedding compounds
  • Cables
  • Caulk
  • Floor Tiles
  • Gaskets
  • Grinders
  • Insulation
  • Packing
  • Paneling
  • Piping
  • Thermal materials
  • Tubing
  • Valves

Asbestos was released into the air whenever these components were installed, repaired or removed. In ships, that usually meant asbestos being released into a tightly enclosed area. It became harder to avoid disturbing the asbestos and easier to release the dangerous fibers into the air.

Types of Ships Where Asbestos Could Be Found

Asbestos was found on virtually all of the ships built by the Navy and Coast Guard and used between World War II and the early 1980s. From submarines to aircraft carriers, sailors aboard faced the risk of asbestos exposure.

You can learn more about exposure while aboard these ships from our Free Navy Ships Guide or you can find out where asbestos was aboard these specific types of ships:

When the military learned the risks of asbestos in the early 1980s, there was a massive effort to remove asbestos from ships. This took years to accomplish and some veterans may have been exposed to asbestos as late as the 1990s. Most ships today use non-hazardous alternative materials in place of asbestos.

Benefits for Navy Veterans

Navy veterans with mesothelioma can access financial compensation and free treatment. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers many kinds of financial benefits from disability compensation to caregiver compensation. Filing a VA claim can help you receive these benefits.

The VA also has world-class mesothelioma surgeons on the east and west coast. These specialists treat veterans from all over the country. Most veterans seeing these doctors have little to no treatment or travel costs.

Filing a VA claim for compensation can help you:

  • Receive monthly payments that make up for lost wages or medical costs
  • Get treatment from one of the top mesothelioma doctors in the world
  • Save money for your family’s future

Navy veterans with mesothelioma often get 100% of the benefits offered by the VA. Those who worked on Navy ships were definitely exposed to asbestos, and most veterans can prove it.

Our VA-accredited claims agents are here to help you file your claim. They can help you create and expedite your VA claim so you get benefits faster.

Get connected to our service representative now.