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In naval terms, a destroyer is fast and maneuverable warship.  Destroyers are designed to escort larger vessels of naval fleets, defending them from smaller enemy boats that approach quickly, deploy torpedoes, and retreat. Over time, destroyers evolved to handle a diverse range of defensive and offensive operations.

Today the United States Navy has 65 destroyers. These vessels are equipped with cutting edge technology. While current destroyers are built using advanced processes, those of the past used outdated asbestos in many components. U.S. Navy veterans that served on older destroyers were likely exposed to asbestos. As a result of this exposure, those veterans may have developed mesothelioma, lung cancer, or another asbestos-related condition.

About Destroyers and Destroyer Classes

Because destroyers are engineered to be fast and maneuverable, they escort larger, slower, more vulnerable ships. A destroyer can deter or defend attacks from smaller, torpedoed vessels. Destroyers are also endurance ships, often traveling vast distances to protect a fleet. The first destroyers were developed in the late 1800s immediately after torpedo ships entered the naval scene.

The basic designation for a U.S. Navy destroyer is DD. However, there are two additional destroyer types. These are the destroyer leader (DL), and the destroyer guided missile (DDG).  Within these types are several classes of destroyers

History of Destroyers

The history of Naval destroyers extends back to Theodore Roosevelt and his tenure as assistant secretary of the Navy. In 1898, the Navy determined the biggest threat to naval security was the small Spanish torpedo boat. These fast-moving boats could come in close to larger ships, fire torpedoes, and speed away before return fire could be given. To defend the fleet from these attacks, Congress approved funding to build 16 destroyers.

The US Navy commissioned the first destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, in 1903. This vessel was designed to defend against torpedo boats and endure long escort voyages. During World War I, destroyer design and construction significantly improved, allowing these vessels attack submarines as well.  During the war, destroyers engaged in over 250 battles with German submarines and also transported personnel across the Atlantic Ocean.

Destroyers were also important in World War II. Many destroyers were commissioned to defend against and attack the German fleet. During the war, destroyers targeted submarines, cleared shore batteries, rescued fallen airmen, and took out enemy planes. During the Korean and Vietnam Wars, destroyers were instrumental in navigating shallower waters.

Destroyers have proven versatile tools for the U.S. Navy and are still in use today.

Asbestos Use in Destroyers

The U.S. Navy used asbestos extensively in most of its ships, especially those built between the 1930s and 1970s. Hundreds of building materials were made with asbestos, many of which were used to build the Navy’s destroyers. Asbestos was used extensively because of its insulation ability. Asbestos is also fireproof, inexpensive, and lightweight, making it seem ideal for shipbuilding.

In destroyers, insulation around pipes and in the boiler and engine rooms contained asbestos. Pumps, valves, and gaskets, and fireproofing materials were all built with asbestos. Gunners had to wear asbestos gloves to protect their hands. Deck matting, flooring material, tiles, and other components on these ships also contained asbestos. This mineral was used in almost every application imaginable.

Personnel Exposed to Asbestos

Personnel, including sailors and officers, stationed on destroyers built before the late 1970s were likely exposed to asbestos. Those with the highest risk of exposure were sailors in the engine or boiler room, as well as those who performed maintenance or repairs. These men were exposed when asbestos was disturbed, causing fibers to become airborne where they could easily be inhaled. This commonly occurred during maintenance work.

US Navy veterans have some of the highest rates of mesothelioma. This increased rate is directly related to asbestos exposure. These veterans were also at risk for developing lung cancer and a type of lung scarring called asbestosis. Shipyard workers that constructed or repaired the Navy’s destroyers were also at risk of developing these devastating illnesses.

US Navy Destroyers with Asbestos

There have been hundreds of US destroyers, as these ships have played important roles, both in times of war and peace. Many, especially those built before World War II, contained high levels of asbestos. This is a partial list of destroyers known to have asbestos.

  • USS Aaron Ward, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Abbot, commissioned 1919, transferred to Great Britain
  • USS Abner Read, commissioned 1943, sunk
  • USS Agerholm, commissioned 1946, sunk
  • USS Albert W. Grant, commissioned 1943, scrapped
  • USS Alden, commissioned 1919, scrapped
  • USS Alfred A. Cunningham, commissioned 1944, sunk
  • USS Allen M. Sumner, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Arnold J. Isbell, commissioned 1946, transferred to Greece
  • USS Ault, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Bache, commissioned 1942, scrapped
  • USS Basilone, commissioned 1949, sunk
  • USS Bausell, commissioned 1946, sunk
  • USS Bigelow, commissioned 1957, sunk
  • USS Black, commissioned 1943, scrapped
  • USS Blandy, commissioned 1957, scrapped
  • USS Brownson, commissioned 1945, sold
  • USS Burrows, commissioned 1911, scrapped
  • USS Caron, commissioned 1977, sunk
  • USS Carpenter, commissioned 1949, transferred to Turkey
  • USS Charles R. Ware, commissioned 1945, sunk
  • USS Comte de Grasse, commissioned 1978, sunk
  • USS Conolly, commissioned 1978, sunk
  • USS Corry, commissioned 1946, transferred to Greece
  • USS Cotten, commissioned 1946, scrapped
  • USS Du Pont, commissioned 1957, scrapped
  • USS Eugene A. Greene, commissioned 1945, transferred to Spain
  • USS Gainard, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Gearing, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Hawkins, commissioned 1945, transferred to Taiwan
  • USS Hull, commissioned 1958, sunk
  • USS Ingersoll, commissioned 1943, sunk
  • USS James C. Owens, commissioned 1945, transferred to Brazil
  • USS James E. Kyes, commissioned 1946, transferred to Taiwan
  • USS Keppler, commissioned 1947, sold to Turkey
  • USS Kinkaid, commissioned 1976, sunk
  • USS McCaffery, commissioned 1945, scrapped
  • USS McKean, commissioned 1945, sold to Turkey
  • USS Noa, commissioned 1945, loaned to Spain
  • USS O’Brien, commissioned 1944, sunk
  • USS O’Brien, commissioned 1977, sunk
  • USS Oldendorf, commissioned 1978, sunk
  • USS Perry, commissioned 1946, scrapped
  • USS Peterson, commissioned 1977, sunk
  • USS Robert L. Wilson, commissioned 1946, sunk
  • USS Shields, commissioned 1945, sold to Brazil
  • USS Steinaker, commissioned 1945, sold to Mexico
  • USS Theodore E. Chandler, commissioned 1946, scrapped
  • USS Thorn, commissioned 1943, sunk
  • USS Vesole, commissioned 1945, sunk
  • USS Vogelgesang 1945, sold to Mexico
  • USS Walke, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Willis A. Lee, commissioned 1954, scrapped
  • USS Wren, commissioned 1944, scrapped

The US Navy built hundreds of destroyers when it was common practice to use asbestos to build ships. This means thousands of people were put at risk of developing mesothelioma and related illnesses. Today these men and women are suffering. However, they can seek resources and support through the Veterans Administration.

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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