Asbestos on Navy Ships

Asbestos was used in almost every ship built by the U.S. Navy for over 40 years. This means that Navy veterans make up one of the highest risk groups for developing asbestos-related diseases. Former service members who worked on Navy ships and have now been diagnosed with mesothelioma may be able to access financial compensation and VA benefits.

Navy Ships and Mesothelioma

The U.S. Navy used more asbestos than any other branch of the military. The military branch relied on asbestos because it was lightweight, fire-resistant, and corrosion-resistant.

Asbestos-containing products were widely used in almost every Navy ship from the 1930s to the early 1980s.

When disturbed, asbestos fibers can become airborne for hours, sticking to the clothing, hair, or skin of anyone nearby. This is how Navy service members spread asbestos to other parts of ships and barracks.

Due to poor air circulation and small compartments on ships, those aboard had a high risk of inhaling asbestos fibers. Once these fibers are inhaled, they become lodged in the lungs.

This can lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other diseases later in life.

It can take 20-50 years for mesothelioma symptoms to occur after asbestos exposure, so veterans who were exposed decades ago are only now developing mesothelioma.

Navy veterans who developed mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos during their service have options to receive compensation.

Navy veterans with mesothelioma may seek compensation by:

These options may help the brave veterans of the U.S. Navy receive the compensation and justice they deserve.

Asbestos-Containing Products on Navy Ships

Asbestos-containing materials were in every United States Navy ship built from the 1930s to the 1970s. There were no exceptions.

Fire was a significant concern in ships loaded with fuel that were highly heated and vulnerable to attack. Asbestos products, however, would not burn.

Asbestos was thermally inert and made perfect insulation for steam pipes and fuel lines. The mineral was non-conductive, so it coated miles of electrical cables throughout the ships. It did not corrode, was lightweight, and added strength to other products.

Asbestos was also low-cost, readily available, and stable to work with.

Asbestos-containing products used to build Navy ships included:

  • 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, sealants, & adhesives
  • Paint and wallboard
  • Pipe and duct wrappings
  • Pumps
  • Soundproofing materials
  • Spray-on insulation
  • Valves

The asbestos fibers in these products could get released into the air and inhaled or ingested, but not everyone in the Navy had an equal risk of asbestos exposure.

Navy veterans can learn more about how they may have been exposed to asbestos in our free Mesothelioma Justice Guide.

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Navy Ship Jobs with High Risk of Asbestos Exposure

No one was safe from exposure on a Navy ship built during the time of widespread asbestos use. However, certain individuals were at greater risk for occupational asbestos exposure.

Below-deck sailors and engineers had more prolonged asbestos fiber exposure than open-air personnel. That is because confined and poorly ventilated spaces like engine and boiler rooms trapped friable (easily crumbled) asbestos particles in dust clouds called asbestos dust.

Below, learn more about some of the highest-risk Navy ship occupations for asbestos exposure.


The men who worked on Navy ship boilers were at increased risk of asbestos exposure because most steam boilers made before 1980 were made of or insulated with asbestos. Boilermen also wore asbestos gloves covered with the deadly mineral 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-containing materials such as piping, 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.


Working on piping in Navy ships put pipefitters at increased risk of asbestos exposure.

When pipefitters had to remove and reinstall insulation — a common task — the asbestos used in the insulation could easily be disturbed and released into the air, where they would be inhaled.

Other High-Risk Navy Ship Jobs

There were a number of other jobs aboard Navy ships that often exposed servicemembers to asbestos.

Other occupations with a high risk of asbestos exposure include:

  • 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 worked with asbestos-containing materials, repairing and replacing them and releasing the toxic minerals in the air.

List of Navy Ships that Used Asbestos

Not one Navy ship built in the five decades before and after World War II was without asbestos products.

Despite health warnings circulating through the Navy Department, almost all Navy personnel and support workers were exposed to airborne asbestos fibers. That included shore workers in shipyards as well as at-sea sailors.

By the 1980s, the United States Navy stopped using asbestos products in shipbuilding except for slight exceptions where airborne fiber release could be controlled.

The U.S. Navy began an abatement program to remove or contain asbestos-containing products in all Navy vessels.

Many had such extensive networks of asbestos-containing components that it was more practical to sink the ships as target practice rather than strip and refit these aging vessels.

Aircraft Carriers

Aircraft carriers are warships that serve as an airbase for the Navy while at sea. Every United States Navy aircraft carrier built from the 1930s until the 1980s contained tons of asbestos-containing materials. Some of the big carriers contained nearly 1,000 tons of asbestos.

Auxiliary Ships

The Navy used auxiliary ships to support combat ships and other naval operations. Like other Navy ships, these ships contained large amounts of asbestos to help protect Navy personnel who served aboard them, especially in combat situations.


At one time, battleships were the U.S. Navy’s backbone. These huge armored vessels formed the core of naval battle fleets and rained devastating firepower on enemy ships and shore batteries.

But battleships were also targets for opposing naval forces and subject to direct shell strikes. To protect the ships and sailors from fire, the Navy demanded that most interior parts of a battleship be coated in asbestos.


Navy cruisers are warships capable of great flexibility and in modern times, are often one of the largest ships in a fleet.

These essential ships contained tons of asbestos to take advantage of the mineral’s fireproofing and insulation properties.


United States Navy destroyers play a critical role in the military’s offensive and defensive tactics. The powerful ships protect the nation’s coastlines and provide a significant advantage during wartime.

While destroyers ensure the safety of America, their widespread use of asbestos before the 1980s has since endangered the lives of many veterans who have served the nation.


The military built Navy frigates with many asbestos-containing components during a time when the extent of asbestos’ dangers was not known. Asbestos was used widely in insulation and machinery on these ships until the discovery of its health risks.

After the knowledge of asbestos’ danger became widespread, there were efforts to remove it from the United States Navy frigates, but the damage had already been done — hosts of Navy workers had been exposed to asbestos-containing products.


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

However, due to how these ships were constructed, many sailors and workers were put at risk of developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure.


Submarines have a long history of use in the United States Navy as a lethal weapon of war. Submarines built before the 1980s contain asbestos throughout the vessel.

Navy veterans who served onboard submarines or who worked during their construction may have been exposed to asbestos, causing mesothelioma or other illnesses.

Other Ships That Used Asbestos

Many other Navy ships widely used asbestos-containing products.

Asbestos-containing products were extensively used on these ship types:

  • Ammunition freighters
  • Amphibious assault craft
  • Corvettes
  • Cutters
  • Destroyer escorts
  • Escort carriers
  • Explosives freighters
  • Hospital vessels
  • Landing craft
  • Liberty ships
  • Merchant marine ships
  • Oilers and tankers
  • Patrol boats
  • Troop carriers

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

Navy veterans who have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease after their service are encouraged to contact a lawyer to learn how they may be able to access financial compensation.

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  • Receive legal compensation

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Asbestos Use on Navy Ships: Statistics and History

The United States Navy maintains one of the world’s largest seafaring military forces, with over 325,000 active-service personnel supported by 107,000 naval reservists.

Multiple Navy bases are strategically placed across American coasts, and the Navy continuously operates ships in waters around the world. That includes a fleet of carriers with 3,700 various aircraft and a force of nuclear stealth submarines.

The U.S. Navy’s ship complement is far smaller today than during its peak period. At the end of World War II, the American Navy recorded an inventory of over 6,700 ships of all sizes. Most were decommissioned post-war and either converted to merchant marine vessels or sold as scrap.

Navy shipbuilding expanded seventeen-fold from 1939 to 1945. The American war contribution in Atlantic and Pacific theaters demanded that military and civilian supply ships be constructed at a frantic rate.

The military continued to use large amounts of asbestos above their ships until the dangers of asbestos were widely revealed in the 1970s.

Help for Navy Veterans With Mesothelioma

United States Navy veterans form America’s largest group of mesothelioma sufferers. These veterans unknowingly breathed in asbestos fibers during their naval service, especially those aboard ships.

Now, long after their retirements and discharges, many have been struck by a duty-related, disabling disease. They deserve to be compensated.

Veterans who developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos on Navy ships can receive mesothelioma veterans benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Mesothelioma veterans benefits may include:

  • Caregiver benefits
  • Financial compensation
  • Funeral benefits
  • Specialized medical treatment
  • Survivor benefits
  • Other benefits

While filing a claim with the VA can provide valuable aid for Navy veterans and their families, the sometimes complicated and time-consuming process may make some veterans hesitate.

Our team is here to help you through every step of the VA claims process so that you can receive the compensation you deserve.

To learn more about receiving compensation, start your free case review today.

Mesothelioma Support Team

Mesothelioma Hope was founded by a team of advocates to educate people about this aggressive form of cancer. Mesothelioma affects thousands of people each year. We help give hope to those impacted by mesothelioma.

View 9 References
  1. United States Navy Official Website, General Information, Retrieved from Accessed on 10 January 2018
  2., “Asbestos Illness Related to Military Service” Retrieved from Accessed on 10 January 2018
  3. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “Asbestos Fact Sheet” Retrieved from Accessed on 10 January 2018
  4. Inhalation Toxicology International Forum for Respiratory Research, “Government and Navy Knowledge Regarding Health Hazards of Asbestos: A state of the science evaluation (1900 to 1970)” Retrieved from Accessed on 10 January 2018
  5. Mesothelioma Veterans Center, “Mesothelioma and Navy Veterans” Retrieved from Accessed on 10 January 2018
  6. Department of Veterans Affairs, War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, “Asbestos Fact Sheet”, Retrieved from Accessed on 10 January 2018
  7. Department of Veterans Affairs, “I am a Veteran” Retrieved from Accessed on 10 January 2018
  8. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Exposure to Hazardous Materials – Asbestos” Retrieved from Accessed on 10 January 2018
  9. VA/ website, Veterans Disability and Healthcare Benefits”, Retrieved from Accessed on 10 January 2018

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