Asbestos on Navy Ships

Navy Seamen at High Risk of Asbestos Disease

Between the 1930s and 1970s, US Navy ships were filled with asbestos from stern to bow, including aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, battleships, submarines and auxiliary crafts. The sailors who served on these ships were regularly exposed to the asbestos dust that filled the air as these ships were operated, maintained, and overhauled.

Navy Ships Contained Tons of Asbestos

The amount of asbestos contained in Navy ships is astounding. World War II destroyers had approximately 25 tons of asbestos insulation. Liberty ships built during the war likewise contained tons of asbestos.

The asbestos was contained within insulating products located in engine rooms and boiler rooms. Asbestos products were also found insulating fire mains, piping, and various pieces of equipment located both within and outside of the machinery spaces. Asbestos fibers were released during routine operation, maintenance and repair of the ships. The fibers were carried throughout ships on the clothing and bodies of the seamen.

Virtually All Seamen Were Exposed To Asbestos

All crewmen were exposed to asbestos, including:

  • Fireman (FN)
  • Fireman Apprentice (FA)
  • Machinery Repairman (MR)
  • Machinist’s Mate (MM)
  • Boiler Tender (BT)
  • Engineman (EN)
  • Electrician’s Mate (EM)
  • Interior Communications (IC)
  • Metalsmith (ME)
  • Pipe Fitter (FP)
  • Damage Controlman (DC)
  • Seamen (SN)
  • Seaman Recruit (SR)
  • Seaman Apprentice (SA)
  • Boatswains Mate (BM)
  • Quartermaster (QM)
  • Sonarman (SO)
  • Radarman (RD)
  • Electronics Technician (ET)
  • Radioman (RM)
  • Yeoman (YN)
  • Personnelman ((PN)
  • Storekeeper (SK)
  • Disbursing Clerk (DK)
  • Ship’s Serviceman (SH)
  • Dental Technician (DT)
  • Steward (SD)

Asbestos Exposure Was Widespread

Asbestos exposure did not discriminate. Navy seamen of all ranks were exposed. Exposure occurred during the performance of normal duties. In particular, those who worked in engine rooms had high exposure because all of the equipment, machinery and piping that they operated, maintained and repaired were covered with asbestos insulation.

Crewmembers Were Also Exposed As Bystanders

Crewmembers were exposed to asbestos even if they did not work directly with asbestos products and equipment. Bystander exposure occurred during regular maintenance duties, while standing watch, and being present in confined shipboard spaces where asbestos was present.

Asbestos was also regularly transmitted from crew member to crew member through normal daily activities. Asbestos dust and debris was carried on crew members’ bodies, clothing, and tools. Asbestos was spread during meal times, recreational activities, and sleeping quarters. This meant that virtually every crew member was potentially exposed to asbestos that spread throughout the ship.

Crew members were unaware that they were breathing asbestos. The closed and confined quarters heightened the risk and level of exposure. As such, all persons who have served in the US Navy before the 1980s are at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.