Asbestos, a cancer-causing material, was used in nearly all U.S. Navy ships built before the early 1980s. Every sailor or worker who served on these ships may be at risk of mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos, today. Thankfully, veterans benefits and medical services can help veterans who developed mesothelioma from Navy ships.
Asbestos Exposure on Navy Ships
The risk of becoming exposed to asbestos and developing mesothelioma from U.S. Navy ships was very high. The U.S. Navy used more asbestos-based products than any other military branch.
Starting in the 1930s, the Navy began using asbestos in its ships as it was cheap, water-resistant, and a good fireproofing agent. The government mandated that all Navy vessels use asbestos until the early 1980s.
Video Summary: VA-accredited attorney Eric Hall explains why U.S. Navy veterans are at a high risk of a deadly cancer called mesothelioma. The U.S. Navy heavily relied on asbestos, the only known cause of mesothelioma, between the 1930s and early 1980s. Thankfully, Navy veterans with mesothelioma can get financial aid and medical care by applying for VA benefits. Call (877) 450-8973 to get started. View Transcript
Military members who served between the 1930s and 1980s were very likely exposed to asbestos, particularly in the Navy, because asbestos was used throughout the ships to insulate pipes and insulate their boiler systems.
And being that you were a sailor on a ship, you would've likely been on ship for months at any given time. And that's why we see the highest rate of mesothelioma cases in Navy veterans.
Veterans diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases are entitled to several different types of benefits from the VA, to include disability benefits, [and] health care benefits. There are even survivor benefits for those with asbestos-related diseases.
If a veteran believes they were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military, we encourage them to call the Mesothelioma Veterans Center so that we can work together to help them file for VA benefits.
Navy service members didn’t know that asbestos exposure can cause deadly cancers like mesothelioma. Makers of asbestos-based products hid the health risks from the military and the public to keep profits high.
Due to the widespread use of asbestos on Navy ships, one-third of all mesothelioma patients today are U.S. Navy veterans or former shipyard workers.
Thankfully, Navy veterans and their loved ones can pursue medical care, financial compensation, and other benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Learn more in our Free Veterans Packet.
U.S. Navy Equipment With Asbestos
Asbestos-based products used on Navy ships included:
- Electrical wiring
- Floor tiles
- Roofing and flooring tiles
- Thermal materials
Asbestos-based products could be found in engine rooms, boiler rooms, navigation rooms, and many other parts of U.S. Navy ships. In places with poor ventilation like engines or boiler rooms, stray asbestos fibers could linger in the air for hours.
The use of asbestos-based products on Navy ships ramped up during World War II and continued through the 1970s.
Microscopic asbestos fibers were released into the air whenever these products were installed, damaged, repaired, removed, or worn down. Anyone who inhaled the asbestos fibers is at risk of developing mesothelioma 10-50 years later.
High-Risk Asbestos Exposure Jobs on Navy Ships
Some U.S. Navy personnel were more likely to be exposed to asbestos aboard a ship. In certain Navy jobs, sailors had to work around asbestos every day for hours in close quarters.
“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 VA, all of the Navy jobs listed below had a “probable” or “highly probable” risk of asbestos exposure. Veterans who worked in these roles are more likely to develop asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis.
- Boiler technicians
- Hull maintenance technicians
- Machinist’s mates and enginemen
- Shipyard workers
Learn more about high-risk asbestos exposure jobs with a Free Veterans Packet.
Boiler technicians worked on steam boilers that propel Navy ships. Before the 1980s, most boilers were either made of asbestos or relied on asbestos-containing insulation and gaskets. U.S. Navy boilermakers also often wore gloves laced with asbestos to tend the boiler.
Hull Maintenance Technicians
Hull maintenance technicians (HTs) were responsible for installing and repairing valves and plumbing systems on ships. They often worked around asbestos-containing insulation and pipe gaskets.
Many U.S. Navy HTs served as welders, often removing asbestos insulation before welding.
Machinist’s Mates and Enginemen
Machinist’s mates and enginemen serviced the equipment that powered ships. They repaired turbines, valves, pumps, heating and air conditioning systems, engines, and generator parts.
Working in engine rooms for long periods exposed these veterans to asbestos from piping, insulation, adhesives, and gaskets.
Navy pipefitters often removed damaged asbestos pipes and installed new ones. Their work could send asbestos dust flying into the air. Pipefitters were also at risk of exposure to the thermal insulation used in the pipes.
High-Risk Asbestos Jobs on Coast Guard Ships
Asbestos materials were also used to build Coast Guard vessels between the 1930s and 1980s. Because of this, Coast Guard veterans who served aboard these ships are at risk of mesothelioma as well.
According to the VA, Coast Guard members who served in the jobs listed above likely had a higher rate of asbestos exposure.
Types of Ships Where Asbestos Could Be Found
Asbestos was used aboard almost all U.S. Navy vessels between the 1930s and early 1980s due to a government mandate.
Asbestos-based products could be found on:
- Aircraft carriers
- Amphibious ships
- Auxiliary ships
- Destroyer escorts
- Escort carriers
- Merchant marine ships
- Patrol boats
- Type of Ship:
- Asbestos Used: Yes
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Learn how many of these vessels used asbestos-containing products below.
The U.S. Navy notes that aircraft carriers are the heart of its fleet, some of which are the world's biggest warships. Aircraft carriers support U.S. military planes and helicopters protecting America while at sea.
About 60 U.S. Navy aircraft carriers are known to have contained asbestos. This included the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), and the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70).
U.S. Navy auxiliary ships gave other military vessels supplies and resources, ensuring they would be well-equipped to accomplish their missions.
Unfortunately, it was likely that these ships were built with asbestos, so those who served aboard them were at risk of exposure and mesothelioma.
Cruisers have been used by the U.S. Navy for over 100 years to protect other vessels from enemy ships or planes. Yet cruisers may have put U.S. Navy sailors in grave danger since many relied on asbestos-containing materials.
U.S. Navy cruisers that used asbestos included the USS Alaska (CB-1), the USS Biloxi (CL-80), and the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47), among many others.
Destroyers allowed the U.S. Navy to combat enemy ships and planes. U.S. Navy destroyers come in many sizes and may be equipped with various weapons, including ballistic missiles and torpedoes.
Many U.S. Navy destroyers — including the USS Morris (DD-417), the USS O’Bannon (DD-450), and the USS Nicholas (DD-449) — were built with asbestos before the early 1980s. Those who served aboard destroyers containing asbestos-based products could be at risk of mesothelioma today.
U.S. Navy frigates are often used as escort ships or as part of an auxiliary fleet but can fill many different roles depending on the mission at hand.
The USS Badger (FF-1071), the USS Harold E. Holt (FF-1074), and the USS McCandless (FF-1084) were just a few of the U.S. Navy frigates built with asbestos.
Minesweepers kept the seas clear of mines so that other vessels could sail safely. Hundreds of U.S. Navy minesweepers relied on asbestos-based products, which put those aboard in danger of mesothelioma.
U.S. Navy minesweepers built with asbestos include the USS Crag (AM-214), the USS Graylag (AM-364), and the USS Rampart (AM-282).
Like many other vessels, U.S. Navy submarines relied on asbestos-based products for decades. Submarines were often small and cramped, making it easy for sailors to inhale or swallow stray asbestos fibers that may have lingered in the air.
The USS Gato (SS-212), the USS Balao (SS-285), and the USS Tench (SS-417) were just a few of the submarines used in World War II that contained asbestos. Many others that served in World War II and beyond also used this deadly material.
Other Navy Ships That Used Asbestos
Hundreds of U.S. Navy ships not mentioned above were constructed with asbestos-based products before the 1980s. Anyone who worked, served, or lived on U.S. Naval vessels built with asbestos could be at risk of asbestos-related illnesses today.
U.S. Navy Asbestos Abatement Programs
After the dangers of asbestos became public knowledge in the 1970s, major abatement projects were started to remove asbestos-based products from U.S. Naval ships and other military assets.
Asbestos abatement involves:
- Assessment: The Navy determined how much asbestos needed to be removed from its ships. Abatement efforts took time.
- Action: To prevent exposure, the Navy removed or encapsulated (safely sealed) damaged asbestos products on ships. Asbestos-based products only pose a threat when damaged or disturbed, so some materials were left behind if they were very sturdy.
- Disposal: Asbestos-based products removed by the U.S. Navy were properly disposed of at hazardous waste sites.
Benefits for U.S. Veterans With Mesothelioma from Navy Ships
If you developed an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma from Navy ships, you may qualify for mesothelioma VA benefits, including financial compensation and free treatment.
Filing a VA claim can help you:
- Access caregiver compensation and survivor pensions
- Get health care from experienced mesothelioma doctors
- Receive monthly payments to cover lost wages or medical costs
- Save money for your family’s future
If you’re a U.S. veteran with mesothelioma, you’ll likely qualify for a 100% VA disability rating. This means you may get more compensation and become first priority for VA medical care. You may also qualify for more compensation from asbestos trust funds or legal claims.
Get help with filing a VA benefits claim from Eric Hall, our on-staff VA attorney who is also a U.S. veteran.
FAQs About Mesothelioma and Navy Ships
When did the U.S. Navy stop using asbestos in its ships?
The Navy stopped using asbestos to build ships in the late 1970s. The Navy also took steps to remove as much asbestos from its ships as possible throughout the 1980s.
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 left onboard.
Do Navy ships still contain asbestos today?
Yes, in some cases. The U.S. Navy doesn’t use asbestos to build new ships but there is asbestos on older vessels that are still in service as of 2023, according to the Naval Vessel Register (NVR).
These ships include:
- USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19)
- USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70)
- USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69)
- USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20)
- USS Nimitz (CVN-68)
Contractors removed 21 tons of asbestos-based insulation from the USS Mount Whitney in 2015.
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 in their lungs or lung lining (pleura) that were linked to asbestos exposure in a 1990 study. Most cases of mesothelioma form in the pleura.
How much are Navy asbestos settlements worth?
Settlements are one of the most common outcomes of a mesothelioma lawsuit. Many past settlements involving cases of mesothelioma from Navy ships have awarded veterans and their families $1 million or more.
No legal action is taken against the Navy or U.S. government. Lawyers at top law firms can file legal claims against makers of asbestos-based products. You can work with a mesothelioma lawyer to reach a strong settlement.
Examples of U.S. Navy mesothelioma settlements include:
- $2.5 million
- $1.28 million
- $1.1 million
Get a free veterans packet to learn more about asbestos settlements and your legal options.