Asbestos on Battleships

Quick Summary

Asbestos was used on U.S. Navy battleships in many different ways. Battleships often used asbestos insulation. Pipes, boilers, and other heavy equipment were also blanketed with it. You can get benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as well as medical care and financial aid, if you got sick from asbestos on battleships.

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Asbestos on Battleships Explained

Battleships were once an important part of the U.S. Navy's fleet. They are large, heavily armored warships containing many heavy guns for use during battles at sea.

Battleships were especially prevalent in the 1800s and early 1900s. However, after World War II, most battleships were decommissioned and aircraft carriers took their place. Only a handful of of those ships remained active through the 1990s.

That said, many Navy personnel served aboard battleships in the mid-20th century — and much of these ships were built with asbestos. Asbestos was a highly durable material, but it's known as a cancer-causing substance today.

Those who served aboard U.S. battleships that used asbestos could develop: 

  • Mesothelioma
  • Asbestosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Other asbestos-related diseases

Fortunately, veterans who developed mesothelioma can pursue benefits from the VA and compensation from makers of asbestos-based products. Get a Free Veterans Packet to see if you qualify.

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Asbestos Exposure Risks on Battleships

Anyone who lived, worked, or served on battleships was in danger of asbestos exposure. Due to government mandates, nearly every U.S. Navy vessel relied on asbestos for decades, including battleships.

a battleship on the sea

Areas of the ship that commonly used asbestos included the boiler rooms and engine rooms. Asbestos covered the boilers and the equipment used in the engine rooms.

Any time these parts were overhauled or built, asbestos was released and became airborne, where it could have been inhaled or ingested.

Asbestos-Containing Products on Battleships

One of the most notable asbestos-containing products used aboard battleships was insulation. Asbestos was lightweight, a good fireproofing agent, and provided excellent insulating properties. However, the insulation could break down in damp conditions, sending fibers into the air.

Machinery and pipe insulation aboard the battleships also used asbestos, meaning as these parts were handled, installed, or replaced, fibers could be released. Since the ventilation on these ships was so poor, the air was often rife with asbestos fibers.

Other asbestos products on battleships included:

  • Adhesives
  • Boilers
  • Gaskets
  • Valves

The asbestos fibers released from these products can get stuck in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, heart, or testicles. Once inside the body, the fibers can never be removed and will irritate healthy cells and tissues. After 10-50 years, Navy veterans exposed to asbestos on battleships could develop asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.

Did you or a loved one get sick after using asbestos-based products on a ship? Get a Free Veterans Packet to see if you qualify for VA benefits.

Shipyards & Asbestos Exposure

It was not only the sailors themselves that were exposed to asbestos — people who worked on battleships and other vessels in Naval shipyards were also exposed to asbestos when replacing damaged areas of insulation or putting in new insulation.

Did you know?

It's believed that 4.5 million people were exposed to asbestos in shipyards during World War II — a time period when battleships were widely used by the U.S. Navy. The New York Times noted that many who served in these shipyards worked in thick clouds of asbestos dust.

While there are no longer battleships in today’s Navy, thousands of shipyard workers and sailors were already exposed. Today, one-third of all mesothelioma cases are linked back to service in the U.S. Navy or a shipyard.

List of Battleships With Asbestos

There were many battleships at sea during the mid-twentieth century when the U.S. was at war. At least 36 battleships and hundreds of other Navy ships are known to have used asbestos.

Battleships that contained asbestos included:

Pennsylvania-class ships
  • USS Pennsylvania (BB-38)
  • USS Arizona (BB-39)
North Carolina-class ships
  • USS North Carolina (BB-55)
  • USS Washington (BB-56)
South Dakota-class ships
  • USS South Dakota (BB-57)
  • USS Indiana (BB-58)
  • USS Massachusetts (BB-59)
  • USS Alabama (BB-60)
Iowa-class ships
  • USS Iowa (BB-61)
  • USS New Jersey (BB-62)
  • USS Missouri (BB-63)
  • USS Wisconsin (BB-64)

According to reports by the U.S. Navy, the four Iowa-class ships had nearly 500 tons of heat insulation per ship. This insulation likely contained asbestos.

Do you have mesothelioma after serving on a U.S. battleship? File for VA benefits now with help from Eric Hall, a VA-accredited attorney and fellow U.S. veteran.

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History of Asbestos on Battleships

Battleships were once the most strategic vessels used by the U.S. Navy. They were the greatest in naval seapower and contained many weapons that were used during battle.

Battleships were built to last. Because they were made from steel armor plating and used asbestos on battleships for insulation, they were fire-resistant and could withstand enemy attacks.

While battleships were an important part of the U.S. Navy, almost all of them used cancer-causing materials. Get a Free Veterans Packet to find out if you qualify for benefits after serving.

Most battleships did not operate independently. Instead, there were often fleets of several battleships and other vessels that roamed the seas and worked together in groups.

Most of these ships were in operation during World War II, when twelve battleships were added to the existing fleet. They continued to serve the U.S. Navy during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars at a lesser scale.

The four Iowa-class battleships were upgraded in the 1980s for use during wartime in light of the Cold War. There was some use of battleships during the Gulf War, but these ships have since been decommissioned in the 1990s and replaced by aircraft carriers.

Help for Veterans With Mesothelioma

Anyone that served on U.S. battleships could have been exposed to asbestos fibers — even those who did not directly handle the products.

As a result of this exposure, roughly 1,000 veterans develop mesothelioma each year, with many more suffering from other asbestos-related illnesses.

If you developed mesothelioma after serving on a battleship, get a Free Veterans Packet today. You may qualify for VA benefits, medical care, and financial compensation. Our team of U.S. veterans, patient advocates, nursing support personnel, and VA-accredited lawyers is standing by to help you right now.

FAQs About Asbestos on Battleships

How did the U.S. Navy use asbestos on battleships?

Asbestos was used in almost every U.S. battleship due to government mandates to keep them well-insulated.

Asbestos-containing insulation, piping, gaskets, and valves could be found throughout battleships. Common places that used asbestos aboard these vessels included engines and boilers.

Unfortunately, anyone exposed to asbestos is at risk of developing mesothelioma and other life-threatening illnesses 10-50 years later.

Why did the U.S. Navy use asbestos on battleships if it was dangerous?

The risks of asbestos exposure weren't known by most people who served in the U.S. Navy until millions had already been exposed.

The manufacturers of asbestos-containing products concealed the dangers from service members and the general public. These manufacturers knew asbestos was harmful but never said a word.

Instead, they focused on the benefits of asbestos, allowing millions of Navy personnel and shipyard workers to be put in danger.

Only a handful of U.S. battleships were still in service by the time the risks of asbestos became widely known in the early 1980s. However, by this point, it's likely that many had already been exposed.

Why did the U.S. Navy stop using battleships?

The U.S. Navy largely stopped using battleships after World War II because they weren't cost-effective, according to the National Interest. Aircraft carriers were much more favored over battleships.

Instead of directly fighting from ship to ship, aircraft carriers held airplanes that took off to fight battles in the air and on land. These ships had more attack power when compared to battleships.

Unfortunately, both battleships and aircraft carriers often contained asbestos, meaning anyone aboard these vessels could be in danger of mesothelioma today.

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.