Asbestos on Navy Ships

Quick Summary

Navy ships contained tons of asbestos. 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.

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 because they often served on ships or in shipyards.

Did you know?

The military used asbestos in virtually all its infrastructure until the late-1970s. Navy ships had asbestos in pipe lagging to insulate pipes, electrical wiring and even in flooring tiles. In places with poor ventilation, such as boiler rooms and engine rooms, asbestos could circulate in the air for hours.

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

  • Boilerman
  • Hull Technicians
  • Machinist Mates
  • Pipefitters

Small Fleet of United States Navy Ships

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

It wasn’t until the late-1970s 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.

Mesothelioma symptoms first appear 15 to 45 years after exposure to asbestos. Veterans in the Navy and Coast Guard that worked in ships in World War II and the Vietnam and Korean Wars are at the highest risk for developing the disease. The majority of mesothelioma cases are from extended exposure to asbestos. But even the VA admits that brief and indirect asbestos exposure could lead to mesothelioma.


Get information on:

  • Asbestos Location on Navy Ships
  • Dangers of Asbestos Exposure
  • Veterans Benefits

Learn More

Navy and Coast Guard Veterans

Asbestos was used by all branches of the military in some capacity as a heat-resistant and fireproofing material.

However, Navy and Coast Guard veterans have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma. Asbestos in ships and shipyard environments could be found around every corner. Inside of ships, sailors are in tight spaces, and being in enclosed areas like boiler rooms and engine rooms for weeks or months at a time increase the risk of breathing in more asbestos fibers.

Did you know?

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Even people with brief exposure can develop mesothelioma. But according to the National Cancer Institute, “it is clear that the health risks from asbestos exposure increase with heavier exposure and longer exposure time.” So breathing in larger amounts of asbestos in a confined space like an engine room increases your cancer risk.

When mechanics worked on ship components, they would routinely have to deal with asbestos used to insulate those components. They also dealt with asbestos materials such as gaskets or valve packing that would release asbestos fibers into the air. When the asbestos was released into the air, it would remain airborne for hours.

In shipyards, the building, overhauling and decommissioning of ships released massive amounts of asbestos into the air where hundreds of people worked.

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. As these components aged, their exteriors wore down. It became harder to avoid disturbing the asbestos and easier to release the dangerous fibers into the air.

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 late-1970s. 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 late-1970s, 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 early-1990s. Most ships today use non-hazardous alternative materials in place of asbestos.


Get information on:

  • Asbestos Location on Navy Ships
  • Dangers of Asbestos Exposure
  • Veterans Benefits

Learn More

Benefits for Navy Veterans

Navy veterans with mesothelioma can access financial compensation and free treatment. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers many kinds of financial benefits from disability compensation to caregiver compensation. 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. It’s all paid for by the VA.

Here are some ways a VA claim 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 agent is here to help you file your claim. He can help you create and expedite your VA claim so you get benefits faster. Get connected to our service representative now.

Author:Mesothelioma Veterans Center

Veterans Support Team

Mesothelioma Veterans Center

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center editorial team consists of experienced veterans, family members and medical professionals. Our work is focused on helping veterans with mesothelioma receive the benefits they need and the compensation they deserve. We love our country and are passionate about serving those who first served us.

Last modified: September 25, 2019

View Sources
  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Compensation - Asbestos Exposure.” Retrieved from: Accessed on September 28th, 2017.
  2. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. M21-1, Part IV, Subpart ii, Chapter 1, Section 1. “Developing Claims for Service Connection (SC) Based on Other Exposure Types.”
  3. War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. Office of Public Health. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Exposure to Asbestos: A Resource for Veterans, Service Members and Their Families.” Retrieved from: Accessed on September 28th, 2017.
  4. National Cancer Institute. “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk.” Retrieved from: Accessed on September 28th, 2017.
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