Asbestos on Navy Ships

Quick Summary

The cancer-causing material asbestos was used in all U.S. Navy ships built before 1980. Every sailor or worker 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. Since asbestos was cheap, water-resistant, and a good fireproofing agent, the government mandated that all Naval vessels use it for decades.

What Navy service members didn’t know is that asbestos exposure can cause the deadly cancer mesothelioma. Makers of asbestos-based products hid the health risks from the military and the public to keep profits high.

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

Thankfully, VA benefits and legal options can help Navy veterans and their loved ones get compensation and medical care.

Get our Free Navy Ships Guide to learn more about asbestos on military ships and your options if exposed.

Types of Ships Where Asbestos Could Be Found

Asbestos Equipment on Navy 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.

Where Asbestos Could Be Found On Ships

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.

Want to learn more about the use of asbestos on Navy ships? Get our Free Veterans Packet.

High-Risk Asbestos Exposure Jobs on Navy Ships

Some Navy personnel 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. These veterans are more likely to develop asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis.

Boiler Technicians

Boiler technicians 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 boilermakers and technicians 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, 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 often sent asbestos dust flying into the air. Pipefitters were also at risk of exposure from the thermal 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 built, 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 materials 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 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.

Learn more about asbestos exposure in the Navy and Coast Guard with our Free Veterans Packet.

Mesothelioma Veterans GuideGet a FREE Veterans Packet

Get information on:

  • Treatment Options
  • Mesothelioma Specialists
  • Veterans Benefits

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Navy Asbestos Abatement Programs

After learning of the dangers of asbestos exposure in the 1980s, the U.S. government undertook a massive asbestos abatement effort. Asbestos abatement removed most of the asbestos on Navy and Coast Guard ships.

Asbestos abatement involves:

  1. Assessment: The Navy determined how much asbestos needed to be removed from its ships. It was not time- or cost-effective to remove all of it.
  2. Action: The Navy removed or encapsulated (safely sealed) damaged asbestos products on ships to prevent exposure. Not all of the asbestos on Navy ships needed to be removed. Asbestos-based products only pose a threat when damaged or disturbed.
  3. Disposal: Any asbestos removed by the Navy was properly disposed of at hazardous waste sites.

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

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 receive these benefits.

Filing a VA claim can help you:

  • Access caregiver compensation and survivor pensions
  • Get health care from experienced mesothelioma doctors
  • Receive monthly payments that make up for lost wages or medical costs
  • Save money for your family’s future

Navy veterans with mesothelioma usually qualify for a 100% disability rating. This means you may get more compensation and first priority for VA medical care.

Get help with filing a VA benefits claim now.

Questions About Asbestos on Navy Ships

Looking to learn more? Get more information about asbestos use on Navy ships.

When did the Navy stop using asbestos in its ships?

The Navy stopped using asbestos to build Naval ships in the early 1980s. The Navy also took steps to remove as much asbestos from its ships as possible through the rest of the decade and through the 1990s.

However, the Navy did not remove all the asbestos from its ships. If asbestos-based products weren’t likely to break down, they posed a low risk to human health and were not removed.

Do Navy ships still contain asbestos today?

Yes — there is asbestos on Navy ships even today. A handful of ships built with asbestos products are still in use as of 2021, according to the Navy Vessel Register (NVR).

These ships include:

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

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

Download your Free Navy Ships Guide to learn more.

Was asbestos used on merchant marine ships?

Yes. Asbestos was used on Merchant Marine ships when the material was thought to be safe. Merchant mariners who served aboard these ships are at risk of mesothelioma, just like those who served on Navy and Coast Guard vessels.

Over 33% of merchant mariners had abnormalities of the lungs or lung lining (pleura) that were linked to asbestos exposure in a 1990 study. Most cases of mesothelioma form in the lung lining.

How much are Navy asbestos settlements worth?

Settlements are one of the most common outcomes of a mesothelioma lawsuit. Many past Navy asbestos settlements have awarded veterans and their families $1 million or more.

Examples of Navy mesothelioma settlements include:

  • $2.5 million
  • $1.28 million
  • $1.1 million

You can work with a mesothelioma lawyer to reach a strong settlement. These lawyers will file legal claims against makers of asbestos-based products. No legal action is taken against the Navy or U.S. government.

Get a Free Veterans Packet to learn more about asbestos settlements.

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 13 Sources
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  9. 80-G-K-4523 (Color) USS Missouri (BB-63), Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC
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  13. 80-G-477163 USS Ajax (AR-6), Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC
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