Mesothelioma and Navy Ships

Asbestos was used in almost every ship built by the U.S. Navy for over 40 years. Navy veterans are one of the highest risk groups for developing asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma as a result. Veterans who developed mesothelioma after serving on Navy ships can pursue compensation and benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Legally Reviewed and Fact-Checked By: Christopher R. Guinn

Asbestos Exposure on Navy Ships

The U.S. Navy used more asbestos than any other branch of the military before the dangers were known. Asbestos-containing products were widely used in all Navy ships from the 1930s to the early 1980s. Asbestos kept the ships fireproof and soundproof.

Did You Know? 33% of all mesothelioma cases have been linked back to the U.S. Navy or shipyards.

When disturbed, asbestos fibers can fly into the air. Due to poor air circulation and close quarters, those serving on Navy ships had a high risk of inhaling fibers. Anyone exposed to asbestos can develop mesothelioma, a life-threatening cancer, later in life.

Thankfully, if you are a Navy veteran that developed mesothelioma due to asbestos on Navy ships, you may be eligible for VA benefits, free or low-cost health care, and compensation. Download our Free Veterans Compensation Guide to learn more.

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Asbestos-Containing Products on Navy Ships

Asbestos-containing materials were used to build every U.S. Navy ship from the 1930s to the early 1980s – there were no exceptions.

Asbestos-containing products used on Navy ships included:

  • Adhesives
  • Boilers
  • Capacitors and meters
  • Cement powder and mortar mix
  • Deck and floor tiles
  • Dielectric paper and relays
  • Electrical wire coatings
  • Fireboxes and liners
  • Gaskets
  • Instruments
  • Instrument paneling
  • Packings
  • Paint and wallboard
  • Pipe and duct wrappings
  • Pumps
  • Sealants
  • Soundproofing materials
  • Spray-on insulation
  • Valves

Asbestos products were widely used because they were non-corrosive, fireproof, lightweight, strong, stable, and cheap to purchase.

Asbestos was often a great insulator for steam pipes and fuel lines aboard U.S. Navy ships. It also coated miles of electrical cables throughout the ships.

Locations of asbestos on Navy ships
Some areas of U.S. Navy ships used more asbestos than others. As shown above, the pump room, propulsion room, damage control room, and engine room came with a very high risk of exposure.

Asbestos fibers could easily be released into the air and inhaled or ingested by crew members if asbestos-based products were disturbed.

Navy Ship Jobs With High Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Many veterans that served aboard U.S. Navy ships were at risk of asbestos exposure. That said, some were in very great danger depending on what jobs they held.

Man repairing machinery on a U.S. Navy ship
Service members were exposed to asbestos when repairing machinery on U.S. Navy ships.

Below-deck sailors and engineers were often exposed to more amounts of asbestos than those who worked above deck. These service members worked in confined and poorly ventilated spaces like engine and boiler rooms. The close quarters meant they could easily inhale or ingest asbestos dust.

Learn more about some of the highest-risk Navy ship occupations for asbestos exposure below.


Navy boiler technicians were at increased risk of asbestos exposure because, before 1980, most steam boilers were made of or insulated with asbestos. Boiler technicians also wore gloves made with asbestos to protect them from heat and flames.

Machinist’s Mates

Machinist’s mates serviced the engines and other equipment used to power Navy ships. Engine rooms were often full of asbestos materials such as piping, thermal insulation, and gaskets. Working in these engine rooms for long periods of time put machinist’s mates and enginemen at particularly high risk of asbestos exposure.


Navy pipefitters were at an increased risk of asbestos exposure since they removed and reinstalled insulation on ships. The asbestos used in the insulation could easily be disturbed and released into the air, where it would be inhaled.

Shipyard Workers

U.S. Navy shipyard workers had to build, repair, and demolish ships and the parts within them. Because of this, these workers often came into contact asbestos in shipyards.

In fact, shipyard work was one of the highest-risk jobs for asbestos exposure.

A 1979 report from the New York Times noted that 4.5 million people worked in U.S. Navy shipyards during World War II alone.

Describing the working conditions in these shipyards, the Times noted that “asbestos dust was so pervasive that one often could not see across a room”.

U.S. Navy Veterans & Mesothelioma Video Thumbnail

Eric Hall, a veteran and VA-accredited attorney, notes why U.S. Navy veterans could be at risk of mesothelioma and how those affected can get VA benefits. Call us today at (866) 608-8933 to learn more. View Transcript.

Duration: 1 min 01 sec

Military members who served between the 1930s and 1980s were very likely exposed to asbestos, particularly in the Navy because asbestos was used throughout the ships to insulate pipes and insulate their boiler systems.

And being that you were a sailor on a ship, you would’ve likely been on ship for months at any given time. And that’s why we see the highest rate of mesothelioma cases in Navy veterans.

Veterans diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases are entitled to several different types of benefits from the VA, to include disability benefits, health care benefits, there are even survivor benefits for those with asbestos-related diseases.

If a veteran believes they were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military, we encourage them to call Mesothelioma Hope so that we can work together to help them file for VA benefits.

Other High-Risk Navy Ship Jobs

There were a number of other jobs that often exposed service members on Navy ships to asbestos.

Other occupations with a high risk of asbestos exposure included:

  • Electricians
  • Engine room technicians
  • Firefighters
  • Hull maintenance specialists
  • Gunnery technicians
  • Weapons specialists
  • Insulators and painters
  • Panel installers
  • Mechanics
  • Plumbers
  • Tile setters
  • Welders and steel fabricators

These individuals often repaired or replaced asbestos-containing materials. In the process, they unknowingly released toxic fibers into the air.

Learn if you can pursue financial aid and medical care after being exposed to asbestos on a U.S. Navy Ship. Get our Free Mesothelioma Guide shipped overnight to you.

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Every U.S. Navy ship built between the 1930s and early 1980s contained asbestos-based materials.

Learn about the types of U.S. Navy ships that contained asbestos and see if a ship that you served on used this dangerous material below.

Aircraft Carriers

Aircraft carriers are warships that serve as airbases for the U.S. Navy while at sea. Every U.S. Navy aircraft carrier built from the 1930s until the 1980s contained tons of asbestos-containing materials. Some of the bigger carriers contained nearly 1,000 tons of asbestos.

Auxiliary Ships

The U.S. Navy used auxiliary ships to support combat ships and other naval operations.

These ships contained large amounts of asbestos to help protect U.S. Navy personnel who served aboard them, especially in combat situations. Unfortunately, this put U.S. Navy personnel who served aboard auxiliary ships at risk of mesothelioma.


At one time, battleships were the U.S. Navy’s backbone. These huge armored vessels formed the core of naval battle fleets to destroy enemy ships.

Battleships were also targets for opposing naval forces and were often subject to direct shell strikes. To protect the ships and sailors from enemy fire, the U.S. Navy coated the interior of battleships with asbestos-based products.


Cruisers are one of the largest warships in a fleet. These essential ships contained tons of asbestos to take advantage of the mineral’s fireproofing and insulation properties. At the time, it was believed asbestos would protect those onboard U.S. Navy cruisers.


Destroyers are powerful ships that protect the nation’s coastlines and provide a significant advantage during wartime.

While U.S. Navy destroyers ensure the safety of America, widespread use of asbestos aboard these vessels has endangered the lives of many veterans who have served the nation.

Key VA benefits are often available for veterans who developed mesothelioma after serving on U.S. Navy ships. Our Patient Advocates can help you access these benefits — get started right now.

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The military built U.S. Navy frigates with many asbestos-containing components. Asbestos was widely used in insulation and machinery on these ships until the discovery of its health risks.


From World War II onwards, U.S. Navy minesweepers played an essential role in destroying sea mines and creating safe paths through the ocean.

However, many Navy sailors were put at risk of developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure onboard.


Submarines have a long history of use in the U.S. Navy as a lethal weapon of war. Submarines built before the 1980s often had many asbestos-containing products aboard.

Other Ships That Used Asbestos

Many other U.S. Navy vessels used asbestos-containing products. U.S. Navy service members working on these ships were put at a higher risk of developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.

Asbestos-containing products were often used on:

When the U.S. Navy finally began to remove asbestos products from its ships in the early 1980s, it was too late for thousands of U.S. Navy veterans who were already exposed.

Fortunately, if you or a loved one are a Navy veteran with an asbestos-related disease, you may be eligible for financial compensation. Download our Free Veterans Compensation Guide to learn more.

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  • File a VA claim
  • Receive legal compensation

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Statistics and History of Asbestos Use on Navy Ships

The U.S. Navy began using asbestos to make ships in the 1930s. It greatly increased the number of ships that had this deadly material on board during World War II.

Navy ship USS Missouri

Navy shipbuilding expanded seventeen-fold from 1939 to 1945. The war demanded that military and civilian supply ships be constructed at a frantic rate. The Navy used asbestos to construct their ships quickly, inadvertently putting everyone on board at risk.

At the end of World War II, the U.S. Navy had over 6,700 ships. Many were decommissioned post-war and either converted to merchant marine vessels or sold as scrap.

However, the military continued to use large amounts of asbestos in its ships until the early 1980s. Once the dangers of asbestos became public knowledge, an abatement program was started to remove or safely seal asbestos within U.S. Navy vessels.

Did You Know?

Some ships had so much asbestos aboard that it was more practical to sink them as target practice rather than try to retrofit them.

The U.S. Navy’s fleet is far smaller today than during its peak period, with only a few hundred ships in active service. Only a handful of ships built when asbestos was widely used are still in service.

Help for Navy Veterans With Mesothelioma

U.S. Navy veterans are one of the biggest groups at risk of developing mesothelioma, and they deserve to be compensated for this horrible disease.

Thankfully, Mesothelioma Hope can help veterans that developed mesothelioma from asbestos in shipyards or on U.S. Navy ships get military benefits and other forms of aid.

Our team can help you pursue:

Don’t wait: Download your Free Veterans Compensation Guide for more information.

Mesothelioma and Navy Ships FAQs

When was asbestos used on U.S. Navy ships?

Asbestos was used to build Navy ships from the 1930s until the early 1980s. 

During this time, makers of asbestos-containing products hid the risks from the military and the rest of the public.

The U.S. Navy stopped using asbestos in its ships when the dangers became known.

Did all U.S. Navy ships contain asbestos?

Virtually all U.S. Navy ships built between the 193os and early 1980s used asbestos-containing products due to government mandates.

However, asbestos is no longer used by the U.S. Navy.

Do U.S. Navy ships still have asbestos?

Yes, in rare cases there are still active U.S. Navy ships that have asbestos in them.

However, the asbestos on these vessels is safely contained and doesn’t pose a threat to human health.

It was difficult to remove all asbestos-based products from Navy ships, so some were left behind if they were not going to put people at risk.

How were veterans exposed to asbestos on U.S. Navy ships?

Veterans may have been exposed to asbestos on U.S. Navy ships if asbestos-containing components like insulation were disturbed. Asbestos fibers could get into the air and stick to clothing, hair, and skin.

Because of this, U.S. Navy service members could spread asbestos throughout ships and barracks.

Asbestos fibers can get stuck in the lining of the lungs (pleura), the abdominal lining (peritoneum), or other parts of the body (like the lungs themselves) if inhaled or swallowed.

This could then lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other asbestos-related illnesses later in life.

What should I do if I was exposed to asbestos on a Navy ship?

Contact a mesothelioma specialist — even if you aren’t sick. A specialist can help monitor you for any possible signs of mesothelioma should they appear, and recommend diagnosis and treatment options from there.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma due to your service on U.S. Navy ships, you may be eligible for financial compensation through VA benefits, asbestos trust funds, and mesothelioma lawsuits.

Reviewed by:Christopher R. Guinn

Shareholder at Simmons Hanly Conroy & U.S. Air Force Veteran

  • Fact-Checked
  • Legal Editor

Attorney Chris Guinn is a shareholder at Simmons Hanly Conroy. Since he joined the firm in 2004, Chris has dedicated his practice to representing mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease victims and has recovered millions of dollars on their behalf.

  • Practicing Attorney Since 2004
  • Worked on 300+ Asbestos Cases
  • Veteran of the U.S. Air Force
Written by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 15 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

8 References
  1. 80-G-477163 USS Ajax (AR-6), Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC.

  2. 80-G-K-4523 (Color) USS Missouri (BB-63), Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC.

  3. Absher, J. (2020, October 07). Asbestos illness related to military service. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from

  4. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (n.d.). Asbestos Fact Sheet. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from

  5. Battaile, J. (n.d.). A life-saving mineral, once compulsory, is now nearly prohibited. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from

  6. Department of Veterans Affairs, War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. (n.d.). Asbestos Fact Sheet. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from

  7. Franke, K., & Paustenbach, D. (n.d.). Government and Navy knowledge regarding health hazards of asbestos: A state of the science evaluation (1900 to 1970). Retrieved December 6, 2022, from

  8. Veterans asbestos exposure. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2022, from 

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