Asbestos Use on Ships
Of all veterans in the military, members of the U.S. Navy were put at the greatest risk of exposure to asbestos and related illnesses. The Navy used asbestos in nearly every part of ships from World War II through the mid-1970s.
The intensive use of asbestos began in 1939 when the U.S. Navy started stockpiling it on the eve of World War II. There are several reasons why asbestos was considered so useful for ships:
- Asbestos is an effective insulator
- It is lightweight
- Asbestos is also useful on ships because it resists fire
Fire onboard a ship, especially out at sea, is extremely dangerous. It is crucial to take all necessary steps to prevent fires, including using fire retardants like asbestos.
Where Was Asbestos Used on Navy Ships?
Asbestos was used extensively throughout all types of Navy ships for about thirty to forty years. It could be found in nearly every part of the ship to insulate and prevent the spread of fire.
Sailors who worked below decks or in certain other parts of the ship were in especially close contact with the mineral. Some of the major uses of asbestos were in:
- The Boiler Room: The boiler produces steam to power the ship and its machinery. It produces a huge amount of heat and requires insulation. Navy ships built before the 1970s included asbestos in the insulation around boilers and gaskets. Those workers in the boiler room were often exposed to asbestos while working with and servicing the boiler.
- Steam Pipes: The pipes carrying the steam and water throughout a ship also had to be insulated. They were wrapped in asbestos insulation. The pipes on these ships ran through every part of it, including where sailors ate and slept. Any damaged insulation could release particles of asbestos into the air and food.
- Valves and Pumps: Pumps and valves also contained asbestos insulation. Those workers who maintained and made repairs to pumps, valves, and associated gaskets were at risk of inhaling asbestos fibers.
In addition to these main uses for asbestos on Navy ships, the mineral could also be found in adhesives and flooring and fire-retardant material in paneling, bedding, deck covers, and other equipment and materials.
Navy Ships Affected by Asbestos
Some naval jobs put workers at greater risk than others, but all could and probably were exposed at some point. All kinds of ships in the Navy used asbestos, including:
- Aircraft carriers
- Amphibious ships
- Auxiliary ships
- Patrol boats
Merchant Marine Ships
The members of the U.S. Merchant Marine are not always remembered, but they too faced asbestos exposure. These civilians served in World War II by transporting cargo, troops, and military supplies using U.S. Maritime Service ships.
Like the ships officially a part of the U.S. Navy, the ships these mariners worked on were full of asbestos. These civilians performed valuable and crucial services for the country during war.
According to one study of former merchant mariners, one-third of those examined had a pleural anomaly or abnormality that could lead to mesothelioma. The study included over 3,000 former mariners and found that those who worked in the engine and boiler rooms of the ships were at particular risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses.
U.S. Navy Veterans and Mesothelioma
Veterans, and Navy veterans, especially, have some of the highest rates of mesothelioma as compared to the general public. Anyone working on ships during the period in which asbestos was used so extensively was at risk of being exposed.
Inhaled asbestos fibers can get lodged in the tissue around the lungs, called the pleura, and cause damage. Over decades this can lead to the most common type of mesothelioma: pleural mesothelioma.
Veterans who were unknowingly exposed to asbestos during service are now entitled to certain benefits. The U.S. Veterans Affairs Administration (VA) provides benefits to those veterans who can show their diagnoses resulted from asbestos exposure during their service.
Veterans may be eligible for:
- Monthly compensation
- Special compensation
- Health care
- Dependent benefits
The VA hospital in Los Angeles is a specialist center for mesothelioma where veterans with this disease can get cutting-edge care.
If you or a loved one is a veteran and experienced asbestos exposure during service to the country, contact the VA to find out what benefits you may receive.
You may also be able to file a lawsuit against a civilian employer that exposed you to asbestos or the manufacturer of asbestos-containing materials that you used on the job. Speak to an experienced mesothelioma lawyer to find out what your rights are.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.