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 as a result. Former service members who served on Navy ships and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma may be eligible for financial compensation and benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Written and Fact-Checked by: Mesothelioma Hope Team

Asbestos Exposure on Navy Ships

The U.S. Navy used more asbestos than any other branch of the military. Asbestos-containing products were widely used in every Navy ship from the 1930s to the early 1980s.

When disturbed, asbestos fibers stuck to clothing, hair, and skin. Because of this, Navy service members could spread asbestos throughout ships and barracks.

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

Due to poor air circulation and close quarters, those serving on Navy ships had a high risk of inhaling fibers. These fibers get stuck in the lining of the lungs (pleura), the abdominal lining (peritoneum), or other parts of the body (like the lungs themselves). This could then lead to veterans developing mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other asbestos-related illnesses 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 at risk of mesothelioma.

Thankfully, veterans who developed mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos on Navy ships have options to receive compensation.

Navy veterans with mesothelioma may seek compensation by:

  • Applying for mesothelioma VA Benefits
  • Contacting a mesothelioma lawyer to pursue legal options

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

If you are a Navy veteran that developed mesothelioma due to asbestos on Navy ships, you may be eligible for legal compensation and VA benefits. Download our Free Veteran Compensation Guide to learn more.

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Asbestos-Containing Products on Navy Ships

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

Asbestos products were used because they were fireproof. Asbestos was heat resistant and made perfect insulation for steam pipes and fuel lines. It was also non-conductive, so it coated miles of electrical cables throughout the ships.

Asbestos was also widely used because it was non-corrosive, lightweight, strong, stable, and cheap to purchase.

Locations of asbestos on navy ships
Some areas of Navy ships used higher volumes of asbestos than others. Find the risk of asbestos exposure in Navy ships above.

Asbestos-containing products used on 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

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

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Navy Ship Jobs with High Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Many Navy veterans were at a high risk of asbestos exposure, but some were at a greater risk due to their occupations.

Below-deck sailors and engineers were often exposed to greater 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 on board and in Navy shipyards below.


Navy boiler technicians were at increased risk of asbestos exposure because most steam boilers made before 1980 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, 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 machinery repairman


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.

Other High-Risk Navy Ship Jobs

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

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 repaired or replaced asbestos-containing materials and released toxic fibers into the air.

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

By the 1980s, the Navy stopped using asbestos products in shipbuilding and took steps to remove this deadly material from its naval ships.

Learn more about the types of Navy ships that contained asbestos below.

Aircraft Carriers

Aircraft carriers are warships that serve as airbases for the Navy while at sea. Every 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. 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 to destroy enemy ships and shore batteries.

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 its battleships be coated in asbestos.

Navy Battleship


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.


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 early 1980s has endangered the lives of many veterans who have served the nation.

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


From World War II onwards, 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 Navy as a lethal weapon of war. Submarines built before the 1980s contain asbestos throughout the vessel.

Other Ships That Used Asbestos

Many other Navy vessels widely used asbestos-containing products. 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:

  • 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.

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.

Statistics and History of Asbestos Use on Navy Ships

While the Navy had been using asbestos to make its ships in the 1930s, World War II significantly increased the number of ships that had this deadly material on board.

USS Missouri

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

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.

However, the military continued to use large amounts of asbestos above their ships until the dangers of asbestos were revealed in the early 1980s.

The U.S. Navy began an abatement program to remove or contain asbestos insulation in its vessels once the risks were widely known. 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 the old vessels.

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

Contact our team today to learn more about mesothelioma compensation options:

U.S. Navy veterans are one of the biggest groups at risk of developing mesothelioma. By the time the Navy knew about the dangers of asbestos, thousands of servicemen were already exposed and at-risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.

Veterans working on Navy ships unknowingly breathed in asbestos fibers, creating irreversible damage. Now, long after their retirements and discharges, many have been diagnosed with this service-related disease.

Navy veterans bravely served our country and deserve to be compensated for this preventable disease. Thankfully, veterans who developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos on naval vessels can apply for VA benefits to access monthly compensation and pursue medical treatment from top doctors.

Mesothelioma patients may also be eligible to file a lawsuit against negligent asbestos manufacturers or get compensation through court-ordered asbestos trust funds. No military branch will be sued during this process.

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  • Receive legal compensation

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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. The U.S. Navy stopped using asbestos in their ships when the dangers of the material became known to the public.

Did all Navy ships contain asbestos?

No. Ships built between the 1930s and the early 1980s contained asbestos, but ships that were built after this time were not built with asbestos.

Do U.S. Navy ships still have asbestos?

Yes. There are still U.S. Navy ships that are still active that have asbestos in them. Although the Navy removed as much asbestos as they could from ships in the 1980s and 1990s, the multitude of asbestos onboard made it difficult to ensure all of it was removed.

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

Contact a mesothelioma specialist. It is important to monitor any signs of mesothelioma and get an accurate diagnosis to get access to life-extending treatment.

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. Contact our team to learn more about your legal options.

Mesothelioma Hope was founded by a team of passionate health advocates to educate people about this aggressive form of cancer. Mesothelioma affects thousands of people each year. Our team works tirelessly to give hope to those impacted by mesothelioma. Learn more about operating principles and our Editorial Guidelines.

9 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 July 30, 2021, from

  4. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2001, July). Asbestos Fact Sheet. Retrieved July 30, 2021, from

  5. Department of Veterans Affairs, War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. (2013, August). Asbestos Fact Sheet. Retrieved July 30, 2021, from

  6. Franke, K., & Paustenbach, D. (2011, December 26). Government and Navy knowledge regarding health hazards of asbestos: A state of the science evaluation (1900 to 1970). Retrieved July 30, 2021, from

  7. United States Navy. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2021, from

  8. home. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2021, from

  9. Veterans asbestos exposure. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2021, from

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