Asbestos on Frigates

Quick Summary

When frigates were first built, asbestos was thought to be a safe substance to use in various materials and insulation aboard the ship. Unfortunately, asbestos was found to be highly toxic and was removed from all U.S. Navy frigates. Thousands of Navy personnel were exposed to asbestos and suffered from asbestos-related illnesses, such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.

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Asbestos and Frigates Explained

Frigates were often used during World War II to escort destroyers and assist with patrol missions and other open-ocean escort functions. These warships had tons of asbestos on each one of them, particularly in the piping, boiler rooms and engines of the frigate ships. Navigation rooms also contained a great deal of asbestos.

Click here for a FREE Navy Ships Guide containing a list of ships with asbestos.

Notable U.S. Navy Frigates that used asbestos included:

  • USS Albert David
  • USS Aylwin
  • USS Badger
  • USS Bagley
  • USS Barbey
  • USS Blakely
  • USS Cook
  • USS Davidson
  • USS Downes
  • USS Fanning
  • USS Francis Hammond
  • USS Gray
  • USS Jesse L. Brown
  • USS Joseph Hewes
  • USS Lang
  • USS Miller
  • USS Ouellet
  • USS Patterson
  • USS Paul
  • USS Ramsey
  • USS Rathburne
  • USS Robert E. Peary
  • USS Sample
  • USS Talbot
  • USS Thomas
  • USS Trippe
  • USS W. S. Sims
  • USS Whipple
  • USS Valdez

Even though this asbestos exposure happened many years ago, there is a long lag time from when a person becomes exposed to asbestos and the development of an asbestos-related illness.

This means that those who served in the armed forces at least 50 years ago are still at risk of developing some kind of asbestos-related illness.

Thankfully, veterans with mesothelioma may qualify for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), legal compensation, and financial aid from trust funds.

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Why Was Asbestos Used on Frigates?

Prior to the knowledge that asbestos was a toxic substance, the Navy made more than 300 asbestos-containing products to be used on frigates.

They also insulated the insides of frigates and many structures within the ships with insulation containing asbestos. This put thousands of military personnel living and working on frigates at risk for exposure to asbestos and the secondary development of asbestos-related diseases.

Any frigate built before the early 1980s was likely built using some type of asbestos. Asbestos was actually mandated at one time to be used on all Navy ships and submarines, including frigates. Since most frigates were made prior to 1989, they likely contain large amounts of asbestos, some of which are impossible to safely remove, as they are an integral part of the ship’s design.

Asbestos was initially thought to be the ideal insulator for frigate ships. It was inexpensive, had high tensile strength and was also fire resistant. This made it a popular option to use when insulating boilers, engines, pipes and the inside of the hull. Every part of a frigate contains some component of asbestos as part of its construction.

List of Asbestos-Based Products on Navy Frigates

As mentioned, more than 300 products used on frigates were made with asbestos, particularly any product made prior to the middle of the 1970s, when it was finally discovered that asbestos was a toxic substance.

A frigate on the water

Asbestos was integrated into many parts of the ship, including the crews’ quarters, the piping in the mess hall, the engine rooms, the navigation rooms and the boiler rooms.

Equipment that contained asbestos on frigates included:

Boilers

Boilers help power the engine and provide hot water to various parts of the ship. They also supply high pressure steam to all parts of the ship.

Before 1973, the Navy bought boilers from manufacturers that used asbestos in several parts of the manufacturing process. The external insulation alone contained up to fifteen percent asbestos.

Boilers also contained asbestos-made gaskets to control the heat of the boilers. Naval personnel at the highest risk of developing an asbestos-related illness were the boilermakers and other ship workers who managed the boilers. The boiler rooms were often small areas with poor ventilation.

The workers did not have respiratory protective gear back and likely inhaled asbestos dust that came off whenever the boiler was being repaired. This process unnecessarily exposed workers to asbestos dust that later imbedded in the lungs or peritoneum.

Pipes

Each pipe on the frigates were wrapped in asbestos-containing insulation to keep the heat or cold within the pipes and help them work more efficiently.

The insulation on pipes consisted of a felt wrapping that was as much as 50 percent asbestos. This outer shell often degraded, exposing the asbestos-containing felt lining and causing asbestos particles to become airborne.

Any time the outer wrapping or inner felt lining needed to be replaced, the workers had to remove the old insulation and put in new insulation.

They often made the insulation by mixing the dry dust of asbestos with water and applying it to the piping. This resulted in heavy exposure to asbestos as it dried out. Dry asbestos is highly friable and easily becomes airborne.

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Pumps

Many of the mechanical pumps aboard frigates were made using asbestos-containing parts. Pumps were also insulated and packed with asbestos to protect heat from escaping. There were bilge pumps, cooling pumps and heating pumps in frigates.

Pipes were usually were maintained by Machinist mates, most of whom had heavy exposure to asbestos during their time in the service. Any time a pump needed to be repaired, the workers had to use tools to remove the damaged part.

This resulted in the propulsion of asbestos fibers into the air. The workers were exposed to asbestos during this time, or any other time that they had to put a new part inside.

Valves

Valves were used nearly every day aboard frigate ships. They controlled the flow of gasses and liquids in the pipes to the ship’s plumbing. There were several different types of valves used in frigates and all of them were made with asbestos.

Many of the valves operated under high pressures and temperatures, causing them to degrade easily. The workers who replaced the valves had to remove the asbestos-containing insulation, remove the valves and replace them with new valves.  Each of these steps involved exposure to asbestos.

Who Was at Risk of Asbestos Exposure on Frigates?

If you worked on a frigate, particularly in the navigation rooms, boiler rooms or engine rooms, you likely were exposed to high amounts of asbestos. You were also at risk if you handled asbestos-based products in U.S. Navy shipyards.

With no personal protective gear, many Navy workers are at risk of developing an asbestos-related condition.

Thankfully, Navy veterans with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases can get medical treatment and monthly payments from the VA.

Help for Veterans With Mesothelioma

Veterans never deserved to develop mesothelioma from simply doing their duty. Sadly, veterans are one of the highest risk groups for asbestos-related diseases today.

The VA has taken steps to help veterans affected by mesothelioma. Qualifying veterans can pursue treatments from VA medical centers throughout the country. Some of the best mesothelioma doctors treat veterans at these facilities.

Further, veterans may also be able to take legal action against the makers of asbestos-based products. These companies knew the risks decades ago but hit the truth to make money.

See all the benefits that may be available to you with a free veterans packet.

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. Frigate image retrieved from Naval History and Heritage Command at https://www.history.navy.mil/
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