Asbestos on Navy Ships

Quick Summary

Asbestos was used in all U.S. Navy ships manufactured before 1980, and every Sailor or workman who served on these ships was likely exposed to asbestos. Today, Navy veterans make up the highest percentage of patients with mesothelioma, a life-threatening cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

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Understanding Asbestos Exposure on Navy Ships

Starting in the 1930s, the U.S. military began using a fibrous “miracle” mineral called asbestos in its vessels. Because asbestos was cheap, water-resistant, and fireproof, the government mandated that all Navy ships use it for decades.

Navy service members didn’t know that asbestos could cause mesothelioma and other diseases, as manufacturers of asbestos-based products hid its health risks for decades.

Because of the widespread use of asbestos in the military, 33% of all mesothelioma patients today are veterans. Additionally, Navy veterans have the highest risk of mesothelioma since this branch used more asbestos-based products than any other.

Get our Free Navy Ships Guide to learn more about asbestos on military ships.

Types of Ships Where Asbestos Could Be Found

Where Asbestos Could Be Found On Ships

Asbestos was used in hundreds of products found on Navy ships, such as:

  • Adhesives
  • Bedding compounds
  • Cables
  • Caulk
  • Electrical wiring
  • Floor tiles
  • Gaskets
  • Grinders
  • Insulation
  • Packing
  • Paneling
  • Piping
  • Roofing and flooring tiles
  • Thermal materials
  • Tubing
  • Valves

Microscopic asbestos fibers were released into the air whenever these parts were installed, repaired, removed, or wore down naturally. Anyone who inhaled the fibers is at risk of developing mesothelioma 20-50 years later.

Asbestos-based products could be found in engine rooms, boiler rooms, navigation rooms, mess halls, and many other parts of the ship. In places with poor ventilation like engines or boiler rooms, asbestos could linger in the air for hours.

High-Risk Asbestos Exposure Jobs on Navy Ships

Some Navy service members were more likely than others to be exposed to asbestos aboard a ship. Certain jobs required that Sailors work around asbestos every day for hours on end.

“It is clear that the health risks from asbestos exposure increase with heavier exposure and longer exposure time.”

– National Cancer Institute (NCI)

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), all of the Navy jobs listed below had a “probable” or “highly probable” risk of asbestos exposure.

Boilermen

Boilermen work on the steam boilers that propel Navy ships. Before the 1980s, most boilers were either made of asbestos or relied on asbestos-containing insulation and gaskets.

Asbestos exposure didn’t stop at the boiler itself. Navy boilermen often wore gloves laced with asbestos to tend the boiler.

Hull Maintenance Technicians

Hull maintenance technicians (HTs) are responsible for installing and repairing valves and plumbing systems on the ships. They often worked around asbestos-containing insulation and pipe gaskets.

Many Navy HTs served as welders, often removing asbestos insulation before performing a welding repair.

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, and heating and air conditioning systems. They also repair components of engines and generators.

Working in engine rooms for long periods exposed these Navy veterans to asbestos from piping, insulation, adhesives, and gaskets.

Pipefitters

Navy pipefitters often removed damaged asbestos pipes and installed new ones. Their work sent tiny asbestos fibers flying into the air. Pipefitters were also at risk of exposure from the insulation used in the pipes.

Shipyard Work

Those who worked on Navy and Coast Guard vessels in shipyards were also in danger of asbestos exposure. Shipyard workers regularly constructed, renovated, and destroyed ships, releasing asbestos into the air on a regular basis.

Below, see where Navy shipyards were located throughout the country.

Map of naval shipyards per state

High-Risk Asbestos Jobs on Coast Guard Ships

Asbestos-based products were also used to build Coast Guard vessels between the 1930s and 1980. Because of this, Coast Guard veterans who served aboard these ships are also at risk of mesothelioma.

Coast Guard members who served in the jobs listed above were more likely to have had a high rate of asbestos exposure, according to the VA.

FREE NAVY SHIPS GUIDE

Get information on:

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

Learn More

Navy Asbestos Abatement Programs

After learning of the deadly risks of asbestos exposure in the 1980s, the U.S. government undertook a massive asbestos abatement effort to remove all or most of the asbestos on Navy and Coast Guard ships.

Asbestos abatement involves:

  • Assessment: The Navy determined how much asbestos needed to be removed from its ships, as it was not time- or cost-effective to remove all of it.
  • Action: The Navy removed or encapsulated (sealed for safety) damaged asbestos products on ships to prevent exposure. Since asbestos-based products only pose a threat when they are damaged or disturbed, not all products needed to go.
  • Disposal: Any asbestos removed by the Navy was properly disposed of at a hazardous waste site.

Sadly, these abatement efforts took time, and veterans were still being exposed to asbestos well into the 1990s.

Do Navy Ships Still Contain Asbestos Today?

There may still be asbestos-based products on Navy ships even today. The military no longer uses asbestos to construct new ships, but older vessels may still contain asbestos. As of 2020, a handful of ships built with asbestos products are still in use, according to the Navy Vessel Register (NVR).

These ships include:

  • USS Blue Ridge
  • USS Mount Whitney
  • USS Nimitz
  • USS Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • USS Carl Vinson

Contractors removed 21 tons of asbestos-based insulation from the USS Mount Whitney in 2015.

Navy ship with sailors

Benefits for Navy Veterans With Mesothelioma

If you developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos on a Navy ship, there may be VA benefits like financial compensation and free treatment available to you.

Our Veteran Support Team can help you file a VA claim to access these benefits.

Filing a VA claim can help you:

  • Receive monthly payments that make up for lost wages or medical costs
  • Get treatment from top mesothelioma doctors
  • Save money for your family’s future
  • Access other benefits like caregiver compensation and survivor pensions

Navy veterans with mesothelioma usually qualify for a 100% disability rating, meaning they may get more compensation and first priority for VA medical care.

Get assistance with filing a VA benefits claim 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 8 Sources
  1. National Cancer Institute. “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk.” Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/asbestos/asbestos-fact-sheet.
  2. Naval History and Heritage Command. (n.d.). Oakland II (CL-95). Retrieved August 14, 2020, from https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/o/oakland-ii.html
  3. Naval Sea Systems Command. (n.d.). Naval Vessel Register. Retrieved August 14, 2020, from https://www.nvr.navy.mil/INDEX.HTM
  4. Naval Sea Systems Command. (2020, June 26). Navy Accepts Delivery of Future USS Oakland (LCS 24). Retrieved August 14, 2020, from https://www.navsea.navy.mil/Media/News/SavedNewsModule/Article/2230986/navy-accepts-delivery-of-future-uss-oakland-lcs-24/
  5. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Compensation - Asbestos Exposure.” Retrieved from: https://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-exposures-asbestos.asp. Accessed on September 28th, 2017.
  6. 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.” Retrieved August 14, 2020, from https://www.knowva.ebenefits.va.gov/system/templates/selfservice/va_ssnew/help/customer/locale/en-US/portal/554400000001018/content/554400000033326/M21-1,-Part-IV,-Subpart-ii,-Chapter-1,-Section-I---Developing-Claims-for-Service-Connection-(SC)-Based-on-Other-Exposure-Types
  7. Viktor Lenac. (n.d.). Uss Mount Whitney LCC-20. Retrieved August 14, 2020, from https://lenac.hr/Mastership/References/Uss-Mount-Whitney-LCC-20/
  8. 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 https://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf.
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