Asbestos on Aircraft Carriers

Quick Summary

Aircraft carriers are the U.S. Navy’s largest warships, complete with a landing deck for planes and helicopters. Any aircraft carrier built before the 1980s contained a cancer-causing material called asbestos. Veterans who served aboard aircraft carriers decades ago are now at risk of asbestos-related diseases and cancers like mesothelioma.

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Why Was Asbestos Used on Aircraft Carriers?

U.S. aircraft carriers have been used for almost 100 years, and these ships relied on dangerous asbestos-based products for nearly half that time.

Aircraft carrier with sunset

The government mandated the use of asbestos aboard all Navy vessels without knowing the mineral could cause cancer. Manufacturers of asbestos-based products knew these risks for decades, however, hiding the evidence to keep making money.

It was not until the early 1980s that the military learned asbestos causes mesothelioma (a deadly cancer that forms in the linings of major organs) and other diseases. Since asbestos-related diseases take 20-50 years to develop, veterans who served aboard aircraft carriers decades ago are at risk today.

Which Navy Aircraft Carriers Used Asbestos?

Over 60 Navy aircraft carriers relied on asbestos-containing products as a fireproofing substance.

These aircraft carriers include:

  • USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72)
  • USS America (CV-66)
  • USS Antietam (CV-36)
  • USS Bataan (CVL-29)
  • USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24)
  • USS Bennington (CV-20)
  • USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31)
  • USS Boxer (CV-21)
  • USS Bunker Hill (CV-17)
  • USS Cabot (CVL-28)
  • USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70)
  • USS Constellation (CV-64)
  • USS Coral Sea (CVB-43)
  • USS Cowpens (CVL-25)
  • USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69)
  • USS Enterprise (CV-6)
  • USS Enterprise (CVN-65)
  • USS Essex (CV-9)
  • USS Forrestal (CV-59)
  • USS Franklin (CV-13)
  • USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42)
  • USS Hancock (CV-19)
  • USS Hornet (CV-8)
  • USS Hornet (CV-12)
  • USS Independence (CVL-22)
  • USS Independence (CV-62)
  • USS Intrepid (CV-11)
  • USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67)
  • USS Kearsarge (CV-33)
  • USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63)
  • USS Lake Champlain (CV-39)
  • USS Langley (CV-1)
  • USS Langley (CVL-27)
  • USS Lexington (CV-2)
  • USS Lexington (CV-16)
  • USS Leyte (CV-32)
  • USS Midway (CVB-41)
  • USS Monterey (CVL-26)
  • USS Nimitz (CVN-68)
  • USS Oriskany (CV-34)
  • USS Philippine Sea (CV-47)
  • USS Princeton (CVL-23)
  • USS Princeton (CV-37)
  • USS Randolph (CV-15)
  • USS Ranger (CV-4)
  • USS Ranger (CV-61)
  • USS Reprisal (CV-35)
  • USS Saipan (CVL-48)
  • USS San Jacinto (CVL-30)
  • USS Saratoga (CV-3)
  • USS Saratoga (CV-60)
  • USS Shangri-la (CV-38)
  • USS Tarawa (CV-40)
  • USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)
  • USS Ticonderoga (CV-14)
  • USS Valley Forge (CV-45)
  • USS Wasp (CV-7)
  • USS Wasp (CV-18)
  • USS Wright (CVL-49)
  • USS Yorktown (CV-5)
  • USS Yorktown (CV-10)

You may still have been exposed to asbestos even if the ship you served on is not listed above. Many other Navy ships also contained asbestos.

Who Is at Risk of Asbestos Exposure Aboard Carriers?

Any service member who served aboard aircraft carriers before the 1980s may have been exposed to asbestos.

Aircraft carriers were poorly ventilated, and if asbestos-based products were disturbed, microscopic asbestos fibers could linger in the air for hours. Navy service members could then inhale these fibers without notice and get potentially sick decades later.

At a very high risk were Navy veterans who worked with asbestos every day, like boilermakers, hull technicians, and soundmen. Naval aviators also had an increased risk of exposure, as asbestos was used to make airplane parts like engine linings and brake pads.

Asbestos Exposure in Shipyards

Navy shipyard workers who built, renovated, or destroyed aircraft carriers and other ships also had a high risk of asbestos exposure. Their work forced them to take out asbestos-containing products from ships and install new ones.

Use the map below to find out if there was a shipyard in a state near you.

Map of naval shipyards per state

Where Asbestos Can Be Found on Aircraft Carriers?

Asbestos was used in aircraft carrier:

  • Boiler rooms
  • Common areas
  • Navigation rooms
  • Mess halls
  • Propulsion rooms

Below, learn the parts of the ship that carried the highest risk of asbestos exposure.

Navy Ship Asbestos Graphic

Asbestos-Based Products on Aircraft Carriers

More than 300 asbestos-containing products were used on older Navy ships. Navy veterans who installed, repaired, or replaced these parts may have been exposed to asbestos. Learn about some of the most commonly used products below.

Valves

Asbestos allowed valves, which controlled the flow of fluids and gasses on aircraft carriers, to resist pressure and corrosion.

Pumps

Asbestos pumps helped control the ship’s air conditioning. Bilge pumps, which removed water that seeped into the carrier, were also coated with asbestos.

Pipe Insulation

Pipes carried steam to all parts of aircraft carriers and other Navy ships. These pipes were covered in asbestos insulation, which was wrapped in a layer of felt and then covered with tar.

The felt layer of asbestos pipe insulation contained up to 50% asbestos.

Boilers

Navy boilermakers ensured the boilers ran efficiently and made repairs if needed. These workers spent their days in cramped and poorly ventilated boiler rooms.

Before 1973, Navy boilers were coated with asbestos-containing insulation. As the insulation wore out over time, asbestos fibers were released into the air where they could be inhaled by former Sailors.

Other Asbestos-Containing Products

So many asbestos-based parts were used aboard Navy aircraft carriers that exposure was hard to avoid.

Asbestos could be found in:

  • Adhesives
  • Aggregate mixers
  • Block insulation
  • Cables
  • Capacitors
  • Deck covering materials
  • Gaskets
  • Grinders
  • Packing materials
  • Paneling
  • Tubes
  • Other ship parts

Aircraft carrier

Do Aircraft Carriers Still Contain Asbestos?

The Navy does not use asbestos to make its aircraft carriers or other ships as of 2020. The Navy also took steps to remove most asbestos-based products from its ships once the mineral’s dangers were widely known.

That said, some older aircraft carriers may still contain asbestos today. It was not feasible for the Navy to remove all asbestos products since each ship contained literal tons of the material. Further, unless asbestos-based products are damaged or disturbed, they do not pose an immediate threat.

As of 2020, 3 aircraft carriers built with asbestos are still used by the Navy:

  • USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70)
  • USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69)
  • USS Nimitz (CVN-68)

Some asbestos-containing ships were only taken out of commission in recent years. For example, the USS Enterprise (CVN 65), which was built with dozens of asbestos products, was used until 2012.

FREE NAVY SHIPS GUIDE

Get information on:

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

Learn More

Compensation for Navy Veterans With Mesothelioma

Navy veterans who served aboard aircraft carriers and other ships gave their time and effort to defend our country. Some even lost their lives — from combat or service-related illnesses like mesothelioma.

Today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has established programs to help veterans with mesothelioma get medical care and financial compensation.

These programs and services include:

  • Aid & Attendance (A&A)
  • Disability compensation
  • Funeral benefits
  • Treatments from mesothelioma specialists
  • Survivor pensions

You may be able to access VA benefits and other forms of compensation if you served on an aircraft carrier or another Navy ship and now have mesothelioma.

Learn if you are eligible for VA financial and health care benefits.

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.

View 4 Sources
  1. The Maritime Executive. (2017, February 04). USS Enterprise Decommissioned. Retrieved August 18, 2020, from https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/uss-enterprise-decommissioned
  2. National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum. (2012). A History of U.S. Aircraft Carriers. Retrieved August 18, 2020, from https://www.steelmuseum.org/carrier_exhibit_2018/history_of_carrier.cfm
  3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). M21-1, Part IV, Subpart ii, Chapter 1, Section I - Developing Claims for Service Connection (SC) Based on Other Exposure Types. Retrieved August 18, 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
  4. U.S. Navy Office of Information. (2019, July 15). Aircraft Carriers - CVN. Retrieved August 18, 2020, from https://www.navy.mil/Resources/Fact-Files/Display-FactFiles/Article/2169795/aircraft-carriers-cvn/
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