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Asbestos Use on Navy Escort Carriers

Navy Escort Carriers, like other U.S. Navy vessels built between the 1930s and late 1970s, relied heavily on the use of asbestos-containing materials for insulation and fireproofing. Unfortunately, asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma or other deadly health problems decades later.

Updated by: Laura Wright on

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About Navy Escort Carriers

Navy Escort Carriers (CVEs), also known as “Jeep Carriers” or “Baby Flat Tops,” were first incorporated into the U.S. Navy during World War II to replace earlier naval losses. The CVEs were smaller and less armored than the other aircraft carriers. As a result, they were faster and easier to build.

The CVEs were designed to escort allied battleships and to transport aircraft. In addition, they participated in anti-submarine warfare, combat air patrol and formed a large part of the fleet if other ships were unavailable.

The first CVEs were built on merchant hulls. After demonstrating their versatility and success, the U.S. Navy commissioned nearly 80 more vessels over the course of World War II.

The CVEs performed admirably in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters.  They proved especially effective at targeting German U-Boats and “milch cows” (the ships that met the submarines with supplies).

In the Pacific, they provided air cover for amphibious landings, ferried planes, resupplied the big carriers and performed tactical airstrikes in support of ground forces.

Yet all of these escort carriers had a hidden danger: they were built with asbestos, which has since been linked to life-threatening illnesses like mesothelioma.

Asbestos Use on Escort Carriers

Navy ships were very vulnerable to fire, they contained tons of gasoline, aviation fuel, diesel fuel, and oil. They also carried munitions and other explosive materials.

At the time the CVEs were built, asbestos was widely recognized as the most effective fireproofing and insulative material ever employed in shipbuilding.

Asbestos and World War II

Asbestos was seen as such an extraordinary material that during World War II the Navy mandated that it be used profusely throughout the shipbuilding process.

Many years later it was discovered that asbestos fibers were extremely toxic if they were inhaled or ingested. The Navy banned the use of asbestos in the late 1970s.

Unfortunately, in the previous decades, countless sailors and shipbuilders had already come into contact with the dangerous substance over the course of their service to their country.

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Asbestos-Containing Products Used in Escort Carriers

Asbestos was used liberally and incorporated into many different aspects of the shipbuilding process in varying concentrations.

Asbestos-containing products on escort carriers included:

  • Hull construction
  • Non-skid flooring on decks
  • Fire retardant
  • Blankets for boilers
  • Insulation
  • Gaskets
  • Valves
  • Pumps
  • Paint
  • Sealant
  • Caulking
  • Coating for electric wiring
  • Floor and ceiling tiles
  • Fireproof protective clothing
  • Welding rods
  • Cement

Any of these asbestos-containing products could put workers at risk of asbestos exposure.

High Asbestos-Risk Occupations on Navy Escort Carriers

Nearly everyone who worked within the confined quarters of the escort carriers was exposed to asbestos.


The pipes that ran throughout the ships were coated in an insulative felt wrapper. This particular material contained an asbestos concentration of 50%.

The felt covering was prone to breaking down and the asbestos needles became airborne in boiler rooms, engine rooms, private sleeping quarters and common areas.

The fibers were then inhaled or ingested. The pipefitters responsible for maintaining the plumbing are at a particularly high risk for exposure.

Boiler Rooms

Boilers were needed on every CVE. The boilers were coated in asbestos for insulation and covered in asbestos-containing blankets.

The boilermakers and tenders worked in cramped quarters with poor ventilation and no respiratory protection. As a result, they suffered exposure in much higher concentrations than other sailors.

Machinists and Enginemen

The mechanical pumps responsible for the bilge, heating and cooling systems all contained asbestos.

The enginemen and machinists who worked on the pumps were also exposed to extremely dangerous amounts of asbestos.

The machinists worked without respiratory protective equipment using sanders, wire brushes and scrapers to remove gaskets stuck inside the pumps.

Help for Navy Veterans with Mesothelioma

U.S. Navy veterans who served on escort carriers are one of the most at-risk groups for developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.

Veterans who served on U.S. Navy escort carriers and have since developed mesothelioma may be eligible for financial compensation and healthcare benefits through the VA.

Contact us today to learn more about getting financial compensation.

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.

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  1. “The Navy’s Escort Carrier Offensive” Accessed on March 28, 2018.

  2. “WW2 Escort Carriers (1932-1945)” Accessed on March 28, 2018.

  3. “A Brief History of the U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers and The Escort Carrier” Accessed on March 28th, 2018.

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