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Asbestos on Navy Ships

Quick Summary

Asbestos was used in all naval ships manufactured before 1980, and every Sailor or workman who served on these ships were likely exposed to asbestos. This exposure to asbestos on naval vessels is why Sailors constitute the highest percentage of mesothelioma patients compared to veterans in other branches of the service.

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Types of Ships Where Asbestos Could Be Found

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

Asbestos was found on virtually every ship 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 asbestos exposure while aboard these ships from our Free Navy Ships Guide.

Click here to get your Free Navy Ships Guide.

Asbestos could be found on types of ships such as:


Get information on:

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

Learn More

After learning of the deadly risk associated with the use of asbestos, the U.S. Government undertook a massive effort to remove asbestos from its Naval and Coast Guard ships. Even with this multi-decade effort, veterans were still being exposed to asbestos deep into the 1990s.

Thankfully, today’s ships use non-hazardous alternative materials in place of asbestos.

How Asbestos Was Used on Navy Ships

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.

Navy ships had asbestos in:

  • Pipe lagging to insulate pipes
  • Electrical wiring
  • 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.

Did you know

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, but it is not a health risk unless it is disturbed.

If you have an asbestos-related disease or injury and have ever served on a Navy vessel, there may be veterans’ benefits available for you due to your asbestos exposure.

High-Risk Jobs on Military Ships

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.

Learn more about rates on Navy ships with the highest risk of asbestos exposure below.


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 demolition and construction workers would have used. When disturbed, asbestos was 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 be released into the air. Once released, asbestos would remain airborne for hours.
  • Building new parts for ships: Asbestos was used in so many different ship parts, it is highly possible that shipyard workers were exposed to it. In shipyards, the building, overhauling, and decommissioning of ships released massive amounts of asbestos into the air where hundreds of people worked.

Breathing in larger amounts of asbestos in a confined space like an engine room increases your cancer risk. However, 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.” 

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.

Small Fleet of United States Navy Ships

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


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

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

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. Over time, it became harder to avoid disturbing the asbestos and easier to release the dangerous fibers into the air.


Get information on:

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

Learn More

Benefits for Navy Veterans

Navy veterans with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases may have access to financial compensation and free treatment.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers many kinds of financial benefits, including disability compensation, caregiver compensation, and death benefits. Filing a claim with the VA is the first step to receive these benefits.

The VA also has world-class mesothelioma surgeons on both the East and West Coasts. These specialists treat veterans from all over the country, and the 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 a 100% disability rating 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 a service representative now.

Veterans Support Team
Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG) PhotoReviewed by:Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG)

VA-Accredited Attorney

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG) is an attorney, a former Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, and a legal advisor at the Mesothelioma Veterans Center. Today, Eric continues to serve as a Captain in the Rhode Island Air National Guard where he is Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, upholding his dedication to his country and fellow veterans. Eric considers it his duty to help his veteran family and strives to help them navigate the VA and receive the benefits they so bravely earned.

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.

View 4 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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