U.S. Navy battleships contained hundreds of components made with asbestos for fireproofing and insulation. Today, U.S. Navy veterans have some of the highest rates of asbestos-related mesothelioma because of exposure that occurred on battleships and other vessels.
Was Asbestos Used on Navy Battleships?
Yes, U.S. Navy battleships constructed before and during World War II contained asbestos in many of their materials and components. Similar to other navy vessels, the amount of asbestos on battleships was extensive.
- Battleships have been in use since the late 1700s.
- Today they are largely obsolete. Considered unnecessary in a modern Navy, battleships of the past were heavily armored fighting ships.
- In addition to the armor, these ships were notable for their heavy artillery.
- Battleships were once considered essential for asserting and communicating dominance in the maritime world
- In the U.S. Navy, battleships were commonly named for states.
- There were also several types and classes of battleships. Battleship types included Coast Defense battleships, Pre-dreadnought battleships, Dreadnoughts, the Standard, and Fast battleships.
- Within each of these were several classes. The hull classification for U.S. battleships was BB.
- The Naval Registry struck the last battleships from its registry in 2006. These were the USS Iowa and the USS Wisconsin.
The first modern, armored battleship used by the U.S. military was the USS Monitor. The Union used this vessel against the Confederacy during the Civil War. The Confederacy had a battleship called the CSS Virginia.
These battleships began a trend of building ships with steam engines, guns, and armor to improve attack power and defense. At the dawn of the twentieth century, battleships were getting bigger, faster, and impressively armed.
In 1906, Great Britain built the first modern battleship, the HMS Dreadnought. This ship was heavily armored but incredibly fast. With more guns than any other ship, it also had an increased effective range.
The Dreadnought served as the blueprint for modern U. S. Navy battleships. The increased size, speed, armor, and guns continued until peaking with ships built for World War II.
The downfall of the modern battleship began with the introduction of radar in World War II. Radar could sense long distances, allowing aircraft carriers to bring air war to any location in the world. The attack on Pearl Harbor demonstrated the power of the aircraft carrier and its favorability over the modern battleship.
Battleships no longer support U.S. Navy ground operations. Cruisers and destroyers now play that role.
Most countries began to decommission battleships after World War II, although, some found new lives with other purposes. The U.S. reused Iowa class battleships for fire support. Some battleships continued to be used in launching shells at the shore. This includes the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm.
By the 1990s, the U.S. Navy had decommissioned most battleships. Although, the Navy continued to use the USS Iowa and USS Wisconsin as fireships until 2006.
How Was Asbestos Used on Battleships?
Like most naval ships, battleship construction included parts that contained asbestos. Asbestos was used extensively in several industries. However, it was particularly prized in shipbuilding because of its unique properties.
Asbestos is lightweight, making it perfect for minimizing vessel weight. It also insulates well, an important quality on ships operated by heat-producing boilers and engines. Asbestos is also useful for fireproofing, an important feature on ships at sea.
Navy battleships generally used over 300 products and components made with asbestos. Uses for asbestos materials on battleships included:
- Boiler insulation
- Pipe insulation
- Engine insulation
- Fireproofing materials
- Firefighting gear
- Textiles and rope
How Were People on Battleships Exposed to Asbestos?
Sailors and officers working aboard U.S. battleships were at risk of asbestos exposure. Contamination from asbestos fibers could have caused personnel to suffer internal tissue damage leading to illnesses.
Contained asbestos poses no risk, but when it becomes disrupted, exposed, or damaged, asbestos fibers come loose and enter the air where people can inhale them.
Ships not only contained a lot of asbestos, but they also had confined spaces and sometimes poor ventilation. These factors increased the risks of exposure any time someone handled asbestos materials.
Accidents also caused exposure. An explosion, crash, or another type of incident on a battleship could disturb asbestos fibers and contaminate the air.
Who Was at Risk of Asbestos Exposure on Battleships?
Anyone working on these ships risked exposure; however, those at greatest risk were workers in the boiler and engine rooms because they worked in confined, poorly ventilated spaces that contained asbestos:
- Engine rooms
- Boiler rooms
- Pump rooms
- Gun turrets
- Munition storage areas
- Propulsion rooms
Even the galley and sleeping quarters had asbestos insulation and could have exposed sailors.
Personnel who handled repair and maintenance were also at serious risk. For example, pipefitters who had to cut through insulation covering ship pipes could expose and inhale dangerous asbestos fibers.
Additionally, veterans and civilians working in the shipyards repairing and maintaining battleships, as well as those who scrapped, risked exposure.
U.S. Battleships with Asbestos
U.S. Navy battleships were made, maintained, and repaired when asbestos use was acceptable. Only later did the risks of illness caused by exposure become well known. Most battleships, all of which are now out of commission, used asbestos to some extent.
Anyone who served on these ships could have been exposed to asbestos, putting them at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses. Battleship veterans should be aware that they may have been exposed. Battleships known to have contained asbestos include:
- USS Alabama, commissioned 1942, museum
- USS Arizona, commissioned 1916, sunk
- USS Arkansas, commissioned 1912, sunk
- USS California, commissioned 1921, scrapped
- USS Colorado, commissioned 1923, scrapped
- USS Delaware, commissioned 1910, scrapped
- USS Florida, commissioned 1911, scrapped
- USS Idaho, commissioned 1908, sunk
- USS Idaho, commissioned 1919, scrapped
- USS Indiana, commissioned 1942, scrapped
- USS Iowa, commissioned 1943, museum
- USS Kansas, commissioned 1907, scrapped
- USS Maryland, commissioned 1921, scrapped
- USS Massachusetts, commissioned 1942, museum
- USS Michigan, commissioned 1910, scrapped
- USS Mississippi, commissioned 1917, scrapped
- USS Missouri, commissioned 1944, museum
- USS Nevada, commissioned 1916, sunk
- USS New Hampshire, commissioned 1908, scrapped
- USS New Jersey, commissioned 1943, museum
- USS New Mexico, commissioned 1918, scrapped
- USS New York, commissioned 1914, sunk
- USS North Carolina, commissioned , museum
- USS North Dakota, commissioned , 1910, scrapped
- USS Oklahoma, commissioned , 1916, sunk
- USS Pennsylvania, commissioned 1916, sunk
- USS South Carolina, commissioned 1910, scrapped
- USS South Dakota, commissioned 1942, scrapped
- USS Tennessee, commissioned 1920, scrapped
- USS Texas, commissioned 1914, museum
- USS Utah, commissioned 1911, sank
- USS Vermont, commissioned 1907, scrapped
- USS Washington, commissioned 1941, scrapped
- USS West Virginia, commissioned 1923, scrapped
- USS Wisconsin, commissioned 1944, museum
- USS Wyoming, commissioned 1912, scrapped
Compensation and Medical Care for Battleship Veterans
Any veteran exposed to asbestos during their service and later diagnosed with a related condition can seek benefits or compensation through one or more avenues.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers:
- Disability compensation
- Special monthly compensation
- Dependency and indemnity compensation
- Caregiver compensation
- Expert medical care
The amount of compensation you qualify for depends on certain factors. The VA rates mesothelioma as 100% disabling, so you could be eligible for maximum benefits.
Can You Sue the Navy for Asbestos Exposure?
Veterans cannot sue the military, but another option for seeking compensation is to file a lawsuit against the asbestos companies that supplied battleships. If those companies went bankrupt, you can make a claim with an asbestos trust fund.
Contact an asbestos attorney or law firm to help you through all of these processes, from determining the companies responsible to getting benefits or a settlement.
U.S. Navy veterans have high rates of mesothelioma when compared to the general public. This increased risk is because battleships and other vessels used asbestos in insulation and other materials. Personnel in confined, poorly ventilated quarters could inhale dangerous asbestos fibers. While not all veterans got sick from exposure, many did. Veterans affected by asbestos use can now contact the VA to get support, medical care, and compensation.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
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.