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U.S. Navy battleships protect the naval fleet and attack enemies to enforce naval dominance. These ships are heavily armored and equipped with extensive firepower. Among the most powerful and intimidating ships to operate in the 20th century, today battleships are inactive Navy vessels.

Like other Navy ships, battleships were often made with components containing harmful asbestos. Shipbuilding commonly used asbestos because it was inexpensive, readily available, and could add lightweight insulation and fireproofing. Today, U.S. Navy veterans have some of the highest rates of asbestos-related mesothelioma. This is because of their service on battleships and other vessels that commonly contained asbestos.

About Battleships

Battleships have been in use since the late 1700s. Today they are obsolete, however. Considered unnecessary in many modern navies, battleships of the past were heavily armored fighting ships. In addition to the armor, these ships were notable for their heavy artillery. They were once considered essential for asserting and communicating dominance in the maritime world.

In the U.S. Navy, battleships were commonly named for states. The single exception is the USS Kearsarge. 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 battleships was BB. is the hull classification for U.S. battleships. The Naval Registry struck the last battleships from its registry in 2006. These were the USS Iowa and the USS Wisconsin.

Battleship History

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. In turn, the Confederacy had 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.

Most navies 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 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 fire ships until 2006.

Use of Asbestos 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 ships generally used over 300 products and components made with asbestos. Asbestos material was used for insulating the boiler, engines, pipes, and pumps. Gaskets and valves used asbestos for sealing, and asbestos was also used in fireproofing materials in flooring and walls.

Personnel Exposed to Asbestos

Sailors and officers working aboard U.S. battleships were at risk of asbestos exposure. Contamination from asbestos fibers could have cause personnel to suffer internal tissue damage leading to illnesses. These often fatal illnesses include mesothelioma, asbestos lung cancer, and asbestosis, a progressive lung-scarring disease that is ultimately fatal.

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.  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

U.S. Navy veterans have high rates of mesothelioma when compared to the general public. This increased risk is due to the fact that 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 naval asbestos use can now contact the Veterans Administration to get support, medical care, and compensation.

Page Edited by 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. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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