United States Coast Guard Cutters

The United States Coast Guard employs a permanent fleet of ships, called cutters, used for coastal patrols and rescues. Before the early 1980s, many of these ships were built using asbestos, putting their crews at risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related health conditions.

Written and Fact-Checked by: Laura Wright

About U.S. Coast Guard Cutters

The US Coast Guard plays a critical role in America’s maritime activity, protecting the coastline through law enforcement and search and rescue initiatives.

They work alongside the military to defend the United States and currently employ 38,000 active-duty and 8,000 reserve force members of the military.

U.S. Coast Guard cutters all receive the USCGC designation before their names and carry crews of 75 to 150 people. Cutters were initially used by the Coast Guard in regular patrol and search and rescue activities.

However, the Navy began to deploy cutters in their military efforts during wartime, leading to the Coast Guard becoming a branch of the military service.

During this time, asbestos was a popular shipbuilding material because it is light, inexpensive and highly resistant to water.

Asbestos has fire-proofing and insulating capabilities — both ideal qualities for materials used in a contained environment like a water vessel.

At first glance, asbestos seemed like the perfect material for the Coast Guard and other military branches to use in their ships, and it was a favored construction substance for several decades.

Sadly, many U.S. Coast Guard veterans are now being diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-caused diseases.

Asbestos Use in Coast Guard Cutters

The Coast Guard followed the military’s lead when it came to asbestos, which meant that it was used abundantly. The material was reliable and sturdy and fared well against the rough conditions of the sea.

Asbestos Wouldn't Burn

Asbestos is nearly impossible to catch on fire, preventing flames from spreading throughout the ship. This ability to fireproof ships and protect crews made asbestos an obvious choice.

Asbestos is also an excellent insulator. While it’s best recognized for its use in homes, it played a similar role in ships, keeping crews warm through regulated and reliable temperature.

In addition, the light and buoyant nature of asbestos didn’t weight the cutters down.

Because of all the qualities that made asbestos an ideal material, it was used throughout ships.

Asbestos could be found in:

  • Sleeping quarters
  • Boiler rooms
  • Mess halls
  • Engine rooms
  • Flooring
  • Walls

Unfortunately, all of the asbestos use came at a toll. The United States thought they were protecting the Coast Guard by using the material, but instead were exposing the crews to a highly toxic material.

It continues to cause significant health problems for veterans today, as asbestos-related diseases take 20 to 50 years to develop.

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Asbestos-Containing Products Used in Cutters

Asbestos products were used throughout Coast Guard cutters because of its versatile applications. In many ways, it seemed like a miracle material, solving a lot of challenges at a low cost.

Asbestos in cutters was used in:

  • Insulation, including sprays, loose fills, blocks and in pipe wrapping
  • Fireproof paper, substances, blankets, and clothing
  • Coating electrical wires
  • Rods, ropes, cables
  • Boiler liners, gaskets, and valves
  • Ceiling and floor tiles
  • Mortar powder, ammunition, and weapons
  • Cement, paint, caulking, sealant, and adhesives
  • Soundproofing

Anyone who served aboard a Coast Guard cutter that contained these asbestos-containing products was put at risk of exposure and deadly diseases.

Coast Guard Cutter Workers at Highest Asbestos Risk

Coast Guard workers during World War II were at the highest risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses because these individuals served during a time where asbestos was highly used.

Coast Guardsmen who worked in areas with poor or no ventilation are also at an increased risk of harm from asbestos.

These occupations often took place in boiler rooms and engine rooms, where workers would spend entire shifts in asbestos-laden areas of the ship without much airflow.

Removal of Asbestos from Cutters

In the 1980s, when the dangers and hazards of asbestos became well-known, the Coast Guard phased out asbestos use in cutters.

However, this change in materials was too late for many of the loyal Coast Guard workers who had either built or manned the cutters filled with asbestos.

Help for U.S. Coast Guard Workers With Mesothelioma

U.S. Coast Guard workers who served before the 1980s are at risk of developing asbestos-related conditions, including mesothelioma.

Known for its ability to remain dormant for decades, mesothelioma only reveals symptoms decades after its initial exposure. As a result, mesothelioma is one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

If you’re a veteran diagnosed with mesothelioma, you have options and can file a claim.

Contact us now to learn more about filing a claim.

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.

  1. US National Library of Medicine, “Mortality among shipyard and Coast Guard workers” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078389/ Accessed on 10 March 2018

  2. Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, “Coast Guard Veterans and Mesothelioma” Retrieved from http://www.curemeso.org/site/c.duIWJfNQKiL8G/b.8578965/k.AAAD/Coast_Guard_Veterans_and_Mesothelioma.htm Accessed on 10 March 2018

  3. Military.com, “Coast Guard Cutters and Boats” Retrieved from https://www.military.com/equipment/coast-guard-cutters-and-boats Accessed on 10 March 2018

  4. Department of Veterans Affairs, War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, “Asbestos Fact Sheet”, Retrieved from https://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/WARRELATEDILLNESS/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf Accessed on 10 March 2018

  5. PLOS, “Cancer Attributable to Asbestos Exposure in Shipbreaking Workers: A Matched-Cohort Study” Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0133128 Accessed on 10 March 2018

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