Asbestos on Cruisers

Quick Summary

Asbestos-containing products were used extensively on a daily basis by sailors operating on cruisers. These asbestos-containing products often became broken down, agitated or degraded — resulting in asbestos fibers becoming airborne where they could be ingested or inhaled.

Asbestos and Cruisers Explained

One of the largest ships in the Navy arsenal is the U.S. Navy Cruiser. This ship is a large combat warship that has many different capabilities for multiple target responses. The only active Navy cruisers used by the U.S. Navy today are modern guided missile cruisers. These operate in case there is ever a marine battle to be fought. These ships have multiple capabilities, including warfare by air, undersea warfare, surface warfare, long-range strike warfare (using Tomahawk cruise missiles) and long range strike warfare.

Cruisers have been active for a long time throughout U.S. war history, including serving in World War I (1914-1918), World War II (1941-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953), the Vietnam War (1955-1975) and the Cold War (1955-1991).

The U.S. Navy Cruiser is different from other U.S. Navy War Vessels in that it can be modified to do many different tasks during battle. Navy Cruisers vary in size and design — from very small ships to massive, heavily armed cruisers. Some Navy cruisers are as large as Navy battleships, although they are less powerful.

Navy Cruisers have been in place since the early 20th century, with designs remaining relatively constant over the years.

Various types of Navy Cruisers include the following:

  • Anti-Aircraft light cruisers (CLAA)
  • Light Cruisers (CL)
  • Guided Missile Cruisers that were nuclear powered (CNG)
  • Guided Missile Cruisers with Helicopter capabilities (CGH)
  • Guided Missile Cruisers (CG)
  • Command Cruisers (CC)
  • Large Command Ship (CBC)
  • Large Cruisers (CB)
  • Guided Missile Heavy Cruisers (CAG)
  • Heavy Cruisers (CA)
  • Armored Cruisers (CA)
  • Cruiser-Hunter Killer Ship (CLK)
  • Guided Missile Light Cruiser, Nuclear Powered (CLGN)
  • Guided Missile Light Cruiser converted to carry missiles (CLG)
  • Command Light Cruisers (CLG)

During World War II, many U.S. battlefields became obsolete, mainly because they couldn’t function in air attacks. As a result, cruisers became the biggest and most powerful surface warship during World War II. They have been partially replaced by aircraft carriers, which have both sea and air capabilities.

Guided missile cruisers were used during the Cold War and these involved a newer cruiser classification that had different types of designations. New types of cruisers were developed and put into action during the Cold War as well. Cruisers can be found in the U.S. Navy, as well as the Russian and Peruvian navies.

Asbestos Exposure in Navy Cruisers

During the early 1930s up until the 1970s, asbestos was used prominently in cruisers as insulation and in products and machinery. This was all before it was proven that asbestos was dangerous to breathe or ingest. As a result, many Navy personnel, including sailors and shipyard workers, were exposed to cruisers. The exposures could have been incurred during the building of these ships, as well as in the operation of cruisers in battle.

Asbestos was common in pipe insulation on cruisers, as well as in boilers, engine rooms, bulkheads, switches, ceiling tiles, fuel storage areas and electrical components. Asbestos was used in any situation where there was a need for insulation, such as when high temperatures were involved (engines and boilers, for example). Asbestos was cheap and versatile and because it wasn’t initially felt to be hazardous, it was used throughout many cruisers and ships.

Asbestos fibers are long, thin and not easily coughed out. They usually lodge in the lining of the abdomen (the peritoneum) or the lungs (the pleura). Once the fibers have accumulated in these areas, they tend to cause inflammation and scar tissue. This process happens over several decades and as many as five decades could pass from the time of exposure to the time the individual develops an asbestos-related disease.

There are existing archived documents that show that asbestos was being used in repair logs, letters, memos and purchase orders. Documents dating back from the 1940s show the excessive use of products containing asbestos on the USS Baltimore, the USS Boston, the USS Canberra, the USS Quincy, the USS Albany, the USS Pittsburgh, the USS St. Paul, the USS Columbus, and the USS Helena.

Documents from the above ships showed the widespread use of asbestos in all areas of the ship, including asbestos cloth insulation for pipe flange cuffs, asbestos cloth insulation for valves, molded asbestos for lagging and insulation, asbestos-containing gaskets, asbestos-containing paper and packing rings made from asbestos. They also used asbestos for elevator pit drainage pumps, auxiliary condenser circulation pumps and on main boilers or in piping.

Looking closer, there are documents from the USS New Orleans showing that the ship had asbestos containing products, such as Westinghouse electric brand turbines, Milwaukee, Manning, Maxwell and Moore brand valves, and Worthington gasoline meters. Asbestos was also used to repair and refurbish all of the valves, turbines, condensers, boilers and gaskets found on these cruisers.

There is also documentation showing the extensive use of asbestos-containing products aboard the USS Norfolk. Asbestos was used for thermal insulation, main condensers, high-pressure turbines, pumps and cruising turbines. Ventilation ducts, gaskets for main steam piping, spiral wound asbestos gaskets, asbestos tape and asbestos combined main feed pump spare parts were also made from asbestos.

The highest risk for asbestos exposure included Navy veterans who built cruisers, as well as those who worked in the boiler rooms and engine rooms. This is where asbestos was the most prevalent and there was the greatest need for continually replacing asbestos-containing parts.

If you worked on a cruise during any of the wars noted above, you may be at risk for an asbestos-containing disease, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. You can be screened for these diseases at your local VA medical center. Asbestos-related illnesses are service connected, so that the treatment of any diseases you contracted as a result of asbestos exposure is covered under Veterans Medical Benefits.