Prior to the knowledge that asbestos was toxic to use on ships, the United States Navy was required to use asbestos as part of the insulating process. This meant that thousands of sailors aboard escort carriers were exposed to asbestos and later developed asbestos-related illnesses after exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos and Escort Carriers Explained
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, escort carriers needed to be protected against fire and excessive heat in various areas of the carrier, especially in the boiler and engine rooms.
During those times, asbestos was considered to be a safe and cheap alternative to other materials. This made it a popular option for fireproofing escort carriers and protecting sailors from excessive heat while on the job. In fact, during World War II, it was mandated that asbestos be used as part of the building process of escort carriers.
Escort carriers were commonly referred to as “jeep carriers” or “baby flattops”. These are essentially scaled-back aircraft carriers that were used during World War II. Escort carriers were designed to carry convoys and defend against enemy aircraft and submarines in the immediate area of the convoy.
Many years after these ships were built, it was discovered that asbestos was hazardous and highly toxic to those who inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers. For this reason, the Navy banned the use of asbestos in the 1970s — but not before thousands of American sailors and other escort carriers workers were exposed to the substances as part of their job.
Thankfully, veterans with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases can pursue military benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and legal compensation.
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Why Was Asbestos Used on Escort Carriers?
Because no one knew of the dangers of asbestos, most escort carriers built before the early 1980s were built with tons of asbestos. Unfortunately, the findings that asbestos was toxic came too late for the thousands of Naval personnel and shipyard workers that came into close contact with the substance.
During this time, asbestos was the primary choice for insulation due to its high tensile strength and inexpensiveness. Because of its versatile properties, asbestos was used in many areas of the ship.
Pipes containing asbestos were found in the sailors’ private quarters, mess halls, common areas and navigation rooms on escort carriers. Asbestos was particularly 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 was a toxic substance when inhaled or ingested. Letters, ship databases, war diaries, historical documents, repair logs and memos dating back to World War II clearly document the use of asbestos on these types of ships.
Anyone who inhales asbestos could develop mesothelioma later in life.