Asbestos on Escort Carriers

Quick Summary

The United States Navy used asbestos as part of the insulating process in shipbuilding for decades. No one knew that asbestos on escort carriers and other ships was a potentially deadly carcinogen.

This meant that thousands of sailors aboard Navy vessels like escort carriers were exposed to asbestos and later developed asbestos-related illnesses.

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Asbestos and Escort Carriers Explained

Like destroyers, frigates, and aircraft carriers, escort carriers made up a large part of the U.S. Navy. This was particularly true during World War II when many battles were waged on the seas.

As with all other Navy ships, Navy escort carriers (CVEs) needed to be protected against fire and excessive heat. This was especially important in the boiler and engine rooms.

Asbestos was considered a safe and cheap alternative to other materials. This made it a popular option for fireproofing escort carriers and protecting sailors from heat while on the job.

In fact, during World War II, asbestos insulation was a mandated part of the shipbuilding process for escort carriers.

Escort carriers are scaled-back aircraft carriers that were used during World War II. Sometimes referred to as “jeep carriers” or “baby flattops,” these ships were designed to carry convoys and defend against enemy aircraft and submarines.

Many years after these ships were built, asbestos was discovered to be hazardous and highly toxic to those who inhaled or ingested the fibers. For this reason, the Navy banned the use of asbestos in the 1970s. By then, thousands of American sailors and other escort carrier workers had been exposed to asbestos materials already.

Thankfully, veterans with mesothelioma, lung cancer, or other asbestos-related diseases can get military benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and seek legal compensation.

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Why Was Asbestos Used on Escort Carriers?

Most escort carriers built before the early 1980s were built with asbestos because no one knew of the dangers. The risks were known only to the asbestos companies, who learned that exposure to asbestos can cause cancer as early as the 1930s.

Unfortunately, this information wasn’t made public until the 1970s, too late for the Naval service members and shipyard workers who came in contact with the substance.

Asbestos was used in many areas of the escort carriers and other ships due to its versatility.

Pipes containing asbestos were found in the sailors’ private quarters, mess halls, common areas, and navigation rooms on escort carriers. Asbestos was also used to insulate the exterior of the ship, boilers, piping, and engines used to power escort carriers.

More than 300 asbestos-containing products were used on escort carriers until the middle of the 1970s, when it was discovered that asbestos is toxic.

Letters, ship databases, war diaries, historical documents, repair logs, and memos dating back to World War II document use of asbestos on these ships.

Anyone who inhales asbestos could develop mesothelioma.

List of Asbestos-Based Products Used on Escort Carriers

Asbestos coated many items on escort carriers, including boilers, engines, and pipes.

This exposed Navy veterans who worked on these ships to dangerous levels of asbestos. It also increased their risk of developing an asbestos-related disease, such as asbestosis or mesothelioma, later in life.

An escort carrier upon the water

Learn about some of the common asbestos-based products found on these ships below.


Boilers create the high-temperature steam needed to operate these kinds of ships.

Boilers were often coated with asbestos blankets for insulation. Many of these asbestos-containing materials were nearly 15% asbestos.

Gaskets that managed the heat generated by the boilers also contained asbestos. Boilermakers on escort carriers typically had the most exposure to asbestos.

However, any personnel who installed boilers or regularly maintained them had a high risk of asbestos exposure.

Oftentimes, the ventilation in boiler rooms was poor and sailors usually didn’t have respiratory protective devices. This meant many were exposed to high concentrations of asbestos and later developed illnesses such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Get a free veterans packet if you developed mesothelioma after serving on an escort carrier or another Navy vessel. Compensation may be available.


Piping was required to disperse cold water and steam to all parts of U.S. Navy ships. Most of these pipes were insulated with wraps made from asbestos, which kept the heat or cold from escaping from the pipes.

The asbestos-containing insulation consisted of a felt wrapper that was covered by tar, which provided an outer wrapping. The felt wrapper was up to 50% asbestos.

Pipes were also in the mess halls, sailors’ private sleeping quarters, boiler rooms, common areas, and engine rooms.

The asbestos covering these pipes often broke down, allowing asbestos fibers to become airborne. Asbestos in the air was inhaled and ingested by sailors and other workers on escort carriers.

U.S. Military personnel responsible for repairing damaged pipes were at a high risk of inhaling asbestos particles. Any time the pipe coatings were damaged, workers had to replace the damaged coating.

This involved stripping off the old insulation and putting on new insulation — both containing asbestos. Eventually, many of these sailors developed an asbestos-related illness.


Mechanical pumps on escort carriers were used to power many different systems, including the bilge, cooling, and heating systems.

Those who maintained these pumps were referred to as “machinist mates”, and their work put them at high risk of asbestos exposure.

Machinist mates often came into contact with insulation containing asbestos, which was used on the external surface of these pumps.

There was no respiratory protective gear aboard escort carriers, causing many machinist mates to become exposed to asbestos in the cramped quarters of the ships.

Toxic asbestos fibers were released into the air when workers had to use sanders, wire brushes, and scrapers to remove gaskets stuck inside the pumps.


Valves were common on escort carriers. These devices helped control the flow of gasses and liquids within the ship’s plumbing.

Several types of valves were used on escort carriers, including steam valves that operated under high pressures. These valves were often made from asbestos.

Who Was at Risk of Asbestos Exposure on Escort Carriers?

U.S. Navy veterans who were at the highest risk for asbestos exposure during their time of service were boiler operators and pipefitters.

They were tasked with maintaining valves and replacing old valves. This exposed them to asbestos during the replacement process.

Because the quarters were cramped, they had high amounts of asbestos fibers. The U.S. military workers exposed to them breathed them in, and many of them later developed asbestos-related diseases.

However, anyone who served on an escort carrier or other Navy vessels may have been exposed to asbestos at some point.

For these reasons, veterans with mesothelioma are encouraged to see if they qualify for VA benefits and compensation.

List of Escort Carriers With Asbestos

All naval ships were made with asbestos products prior to the 1970s. If you’re a Navy veteran, it may help to know if the specific ship you served on contained asbestos.

The following are some Navy escort carriers that used asbestos-containing materials:

  • USS Altamaha (CVE-6)
  • USS Barnes (CVE-20)
  • USS Carnegie (CVE-38)
  • USS Coral Sea (CVE-57)
  • USS Edisto (CVE-41)
  • USS Hoggatt Bay (CVE-73)
  • USS Nehenta Bay (CVE-74)
  • USS Petrof Bay (CVE-80)
  • USS Salerno Bay (CVE-110)
  • USS Takanis Bay (CVE-89)
  • USS Tulagi (CVE-72)
  • USS Willapa (CVE-53)

Veterans who served in the United States Navy as shipyard workers or escort carrier personnel and were diagnosed with mesothelioma do have options. VA benefits are available to those who served, and anyone exposed to asbestos who later became sick can file a claim with an asbestos trust fund.

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  • VA Benefits

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  • Treatment Options
  • Mesothelioma Specialists
  • Veterans Benefits

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Asbestos Trust Fund Claims

If you were exposed to asbestos while serving in the U.S. Navy and now have mesothelioma, you can seek payment from the makers of the asbestos products.

This is known as a product liability lawsuit. A reputable law firm can help you file your claim and represent you.

You will either file a lawsuit directly against the former asbestos manufacturer or with an asbestos trust fund claim.

Asbestos trust funds were set up after companies that made asbestos filed for bankruptcy due to so many mesothelioma claims. These trust funds ensure that there are funds for mesothelioma patients affected by toxic asbestos.

VA Benefits

Veterans with mesothelioma may be eligible for full VA benefits.

Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses related to service typically qualify for a 100% disability rating. A 100% disability rating for married veterans currently provides $3,823.89 per month.

Help for Veterans With Mesothelioma

If you or a loved one worked on an escort carrier during military service, you were likely exposed to asbestos and are at risk for an asbestos-related disease.

You have treatment options with several VA medical centers if you develop mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. There are several mesothelioma specialists available through the VA.

The care is almost always covered by the U.S. Veteran’s Administration because the exposure was usually service-related.

There are also monthly financial payments available from the VA for mesothelioma patients. Veterans may also qualify for legal compensation from the makers of asbestos-based products.

Finally, if you were diagnosed with mesothelioma, you can connect with a mesothelioma patient advocate to access support, assistance, and resources.

Get a free veterans packet to learn more about the benefits that might be available for you.

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.

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  1. Escort carrier image retrieved from Naval History and Heritage Command at
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