Asbestos on Battleships

Quick Summary

Asbestos was used on U.S. Navy Battleships in many different capacities. Battleships were insulated with asbestos insulation and pipes, boilers and other heavy equipment were blanketed with the substance.

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Asbestos and Battleships Explained

Battleships are a large part of the U.S. Navy and, in some cases, the armed forces. They are large, heavily armored warships containing many heavy guns for use during Naval battles at sea. These ships were created to give the Navy the protection and firepower they needed to fight battles at sea.

Battleships were especially prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, their popularity has waned recently, as few battles are waged at sea. Battleships have largely been replaced by aircraft carriers since World War II.

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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. For this reason, there are no existing battleships in any of the armed forces in operation today.

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.

Fortunately, Navy veterans who developed mesothelioma can pursue benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and compensation from makers of asbestos-based products. Get a free veterans packet to see if you qualify.

Asbestos Exposure Risks on Battleships

Battleships were a traveling hazard to anyone who lived, worked, or built these ships.

The asbestos fibers were constantly released into the air when the ship was being maintained, as well as in the everyday running of the ship. There were tons of asbestos on each and every battleship at sea.

a battleship on the sea

Areas of the battleship that were most likely to provide asbestos exposure were the boiler 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.

According to reports by the U.S. Navy, every Iowa Class Battleship had nearly 500 tons of heat insulation per ship.

Asbestos-Containing Products on Battleships

Asbestos was lightweight and provided excellent insulating properties — both of which made asbestos the leading insulation in U.S. Naval battleships.

Almost all of this insulation contained asbestos that broke down in the damp conditions of the ship. This caused asbestos to become airborne and inhaled or ingested by sailors living and working on these battleships.

Besides its use as an insulator of battleships, the machinery and piping was also insulated with asbestos.

Every time the insulation or pipe/machinery blankets were installed or replaced, asbestos needles could become airborne. They then could be ingested or inhaled by sailors or shipyard workers.

Also, asbestos-containing piping extended throughout the battleship and it was clearly visible in the ships' living quarters, hallways and mess halls that sailors came into contact with every day.

Because the ventilation was so poor, the asbestos fibers had nowhere to go and the polluted air was rife with asbestos particles.

Did you 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 in shipyards were also exposed to asbestos when replacing damaged areas of insulation or putting in new insulation.

While there are no longer battleships commissioned in today’s Navy, thousands of sailors and shipyard workers that used to live or work on these ships were exposed to the needle-like fibers of asbestos.

The needles imbed into the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal contents) or the pleura (the lining of the lungs) and often cannot be coughed out. This resulted in many workers eventually developing asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma — a deadly form of cancer that is caused only through asbestos exposure.

List of Battleships With Asbestos

There were many battleships at sea during the mid-twentieth century when the U.S. was at war.

Battleships that contained asbestos include:

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
  • USS Illinois BB-65
  • USS Kentucky BB-66
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History of Battleships

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

They were extremely strong ships and offered balanced offensive and balanced defensive abilities.

A battleship was built to last and withstand enemy firepower by having defensive guns to fire at opponent’s battleships and submarines. Also, because they were made from steel armor plating, they were fire resistant to any shots directed at the battleship.

While battleships were an important part of the U.S. Navy, many used cancer-causing asbestos materials. Get a free veterans packet to learn more.

Most battleships did not operate independently and were instead a part of a crew of battleships that supported each other at sea.

The battleships trained and operated within the confines of a group that worked together to defeat the enemy battleships. There were often fleets of several battleships and other ships that roamed the seas and battled as a single group of ships.

Most battleships were in operation during World War II when twelve battleships were added to the existing battleships. Battleships continued to serve the U.S. Navy during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. More battleships were added by President Reagan, who ordered 600 new ships.

The existing battleships were re-outfitted in the 1980s for use during wartime, although there were no wars during that period of time. There was some use of battleships during the Gulf Wars, but these ships have since been decommissioned in the 1990s and replaced by aircraft carriers.

Help for Veterans With Mesothelioma

Anyone on the ship, even those who did not directly handle asbestos-containing products, were likely exposed to the toxic fibers of asbestos and carried the risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses.

The simplest vibration of the battleship or changes in temperature were enough to dislodge asbestos particles into the air. Battleships were not well ventilated and the crew lived in close quarters, making it easy to inhale or ingest asbestos.

Many decades later, these sailors developed asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.

If you developed mesothelioma after serving on a battleship, get a free veterans packet today. You may qualify for VA benefits and legal compensation.

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 1 Sources
  1. Battleship image retrieved from Naval History and Heritage Command at
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