USS Astoria (CL-90)
The USS Astoria, with the designation CL-90, was a light cruiser that served during World War II and was named in honor of a heavy cruiser that was sunk in battle in 1942. The second Astoria was not commissioned until 1944, so her time in the war was limited but important. For her service and the service of her crew in the war, she earned five battle stars.
During World War II, many ships were built for the U.S. Navy, and this was done at a time when asbestos was a top choice for many uses in ships, especially insulation and fireproofing. It wasn’t until decades later that it was discovered that this heavy use of asbestos in the Astoria and other navy ships caused many servicemen to be exposed to the harmful fibers of the mineral. This exposure has led U.S. Navy veterans to have some of highest rates of mesothelioma in the country.
About the USS Astoria (CL-90)
The light cruiser USS Astoria was named after the previous USS Astoria, CA-34, a heavy cruiser that was lost in 1942 during the battle of Savo Island. The Astoria belonged to the Cleveland class of navy cruisers. The Cleveland class included 27 completed light cruisers—the largest class of light cruisers—that were designed to be faster, to go farther, and to have better anti-aircraft weapons than previous classes.
The Astoria was laid down September 6, 1941 at the William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company in Philadelphia and launched in March of 1943. She was commissioned May 17, 1944 under Captain George Carroll Dyer at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The cruiser was 610 feet long, displaced 14,358 tons at capacity, and could travel 11,000 nautical miles with a complement of 1,255 officers and enlisted men. She was powered by steam boilers and propelled by geared turbines, some of the onboard equipment that saw the heaviest use of asbestos.
Service in World War II
The USS Astoria was built for World War II and it was in this war that she earned her battle stars. After shakedown training in Bermuda and subsequent upgrades, the Astoria traveled through the Panama Canal, to San Diego, and then to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii before deploying to Pacific Theater of the war, joining the Fast Carrier Task Force.
Her first action began as she cruised out on December 11, 1944 to serve as part of an anti-aircraft screen for the fleet’s aircraft carriers. Following this action, the Astoria weathered a typhoon that sank other ships. She survived undamaged and helped with search and rescue for several days after the storm. Early in 1945 the Astoria participated in offensive actions from the South China Sea and against Japanese installations in China.
The Astoria then contributed to the air raids on Tokyo and the landing at Iwo Jima. She fired at the shore to support the landing ground troupes. Next, she moved back to Tokyo to support the ongoing bombardments. She provided anti-aircraft support, taking down or helping to take down multiple enemy planes. After a quick break in the Philippines in June, the Astoria was back in action for her final active combat support, once again screening aircraft carriers.
The Astoria did not serve long after the war, but she did spend several months patrolling the waters around Japan before returning to Pearl Harbor for training. From there she went back to San Pedro, California and spent several months at various points along the coast. In 1946 the Astoria sailed to Guam and the Marianas. In the later 1940s she spent a lot of time patrolling in the Pacific, near Korea, China and Japan. On July 1, 1949 she was berthed in San Francisco before being moved to San Diego where she remained in reserve until 1969. She was then decommissioned and sent to be scrapped.
Asbestos Used on the USS Astoria
The U.S. Navy chose asbestos for its ships because the natural mineral has a lot of desirable properties. It was also not known at the time that the mineral could cause some people to develop serious illnesses. One reason it was difficult to make the connection is that exposure to asbestos typically leads to symptoms of an illness like mesothelioma only decades later. The useful properties of asbestos, such as its ability to fireproof and insulate, were desirable for shipbuilding of all types, including cruisers like the Astoria.
Nearly all ships in the navy from this era were constructed with asbestos, and the engines, turbines, boilers, and pipes were among the parts of the ships most heavily insulated with this material. This equipment, as well as the pipes running throughout the ship, needed to be insulated to prevent heat from escaping or from causing serious burns or even fires. But asbestos was also used in many other parts of the Astoria and other ships: adhesives, gaskets, seals, valves, fireproof and firefighting gear, gunner’s gloves, flooring materials, including hundreds of components and pieces of equipment.
Being around asbestos is risky because if the fibers of the material come loose they can be inhaled. Once inside the body the fibers cause the damage that in some people will ultimately lead to diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma. Because materials, like insulation, on a ship could easily become damaged, releasing fibers, or simply wear down over time, everyone on board was at risk of exposure.
Some men were at a greater risk than others. Those working on maintenance and repair projects were more likely to damage and disrupt asbestos fibers. For example, the men who repaired pipes had to break through the asbestos insulation to get to the pipes. Workers in the boiler rooms and with the turbines were also at an increased risk. Documented claims to the Veterans Administration include a veteran who served on the USS Astoria and later received a diagnosis of asbestosis. He testified in his claim to working with and near asbestos covered pipes.
The veterans who served on the USS Astoria, as well as those on other navy ships, served their country and made great sacrifices. Unfortunately that braves service and sacrifice led to serious illness in some of these veterans. Navy veterans are more likely than other populations to develop mesothelioma and other asbestos illnesses. If you have an asbestos disease and served in the navy, you can file a claim with the Veterans Administration and an experienced veterans’ advocate can help you through the process.
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