Asbestos Use on Submarines

Submarines built before the 1980s contain asbestos throughout the vessel. Navy veterans who served on board submarines or worked during their construction may have been exposed to asbestos causing mesothelioma.

Written and Fact-Checked by: Mesothelioma Hope Team

About U.S. Navy Submarines

Submarines play a critical role in the United States Navy, both past and present. The Navy began using submarines in the late 1800s, but it did not rely on the vessels until after World War I. Witnessing the mayhem caused by German U-boats resulted in the military ordering submarines for the fleet.

During World War II, the Navy used submarines to attack enemy merchant and military vessels while also defending American assets.

Submarines were also vital for rescuing pilots who ejected from their fighter jets over water during aviation battles.

From the Cold War to the present, submarines have provided the third option in America’s nuclear triad. Submarines are capable of firing ballistic missiles from the sea at targets thousands of miles away.

Today’s Navy Submarines

In addition to nuclear deterrence, submarines today perform many jobs from reconnaissance and rescue missions to providing military support and deploying SEAL teams.

Some vessels are capable of launching ballistic and guided missiles. All submarines in the U.S. fleet are nuclear-powered.

Today, the U.S. Navy has over 65 submarines in its fleet and more in production.

The four different classes of submarines are:

  • Los Angeles
  • Ohio
  • Seawolf
  • Virginia

Construction continues on new submarines as old vessels reach the end of their lifetimes. Approximately one new submarine enters the fleet each year.

Asbestos Use in Navy Submarines

Beginning in 1922, the U.S. Navy listed asbestos as a required building material for new submarines.

Its lightweight, heat-resistant and anti-corrosive nature made asbestos a miracle product aboard submarines.

WWII and Navy Asbestos Use

By 1939 and the onset of WWII, the Navy prioritized asbestos stockpiling for the war effort and used it in every submarine.

Since 1950, most U.S. Navy submarines commissioned were nuclear-powered. The nuclear reactor and high-tech equipment create high temperatures, making asbestos a useful product for fireproofing and insulation.

Any Navy veteran who served on a submarine during this time could have been exposed to asbestos and put at risk of diseases like mesothelioma.

In addition, two shipbuilding companies produced all active Navy submarines: General Dynamic and Huntington Ingalls. Navy veterans and civilian workers who spent time at shipyards owned by these companies may have been exposed to asbestos as well.

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Types of Asbestos Products Used in Submarines

Navy veterans who served aboard any U.S. submarine built before the 1980s may have been exposed to asbestos. Many products used chrysotile and amosite asbestos types for vessel construction and the equipment inside.

Submarine products that used asbestos include:

  • Pipe insulation
  • Structure insulation
  • Boiler lining and insulation
  • Valves
  • Gaskets
  • Packing products
  • Power cables
  • Rope and twine
  • Inside and outer deck flooring
  • Tape and adhesives
  • Fire retardant
  • Sealants and paint

Asbestos was also used in veterans’ uniforms, gloves and work gear. Fireproof clothing is vital for sailors working around high temperatures.

High Asbestos-Risk Occupations in Submarines

Asbestos put all veterans aboard submarines at risk before the Navy took steps to remove it from all ships. However, some occupations posed a higher threat of exposure.

Sailors, along with workers involved with construction, repair, and demolition were most likely to handle asbestos directly and inhale or ingest the airborne fibers.

High-risk occupations aboard submarines include:

  • Boiler room workers
  • Painters
  • Electricians
  • Insulators
  • Mechanics
  • Maintenance workers
  • Pipefitters
  • Plumbers
  • Welders
  • Metalworkers
  • Engine room technicians
  • Torpedo and weapon crews

The cramped quarters aboard submarines caused greater-than-usual disturbance of asbestos fibers as sailors bumped into walls and walked the same stretch of flooring every day.

Over time, the material wears down and the fibers become airborne. With little ventilation inside the vessel, veterans had no choice but to inhale the asbestos fibers.

Help for Navy Veterans With Mesothelioma

Veterans who bravely served the United States Navy and spent time around submarines may have been exposed to asbestos.

If you were at risk of exposure, it’s important that you visit your doctor for regular screenings for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions.

Navy veterans who were exposed to asbestos while serving and developed mesothelioma can file for compensation through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and through private claims. Our team can tell you more about receiving compensation and health care benefits.

Get our free mesothelioma guide today.

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.

7 References
  1. Popular Mechanics, “Here Are All the Fighting Submarines of the U.S. Navy.” Retrieved from Accessed on April 18, 2018.

  2. NTI, “United States Active Submarines.” Retrieved from Accessed on April 18, 2018.

  3. NTI, “United States Submarine Capabilities.” Retrieved from Accessed on April 18, 2018.

  4. Shipbuilders Council of America, “U.S. Navy Shipbuilding.” Retrieved from Accessed on April 18, 2018.

  5. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Asbestos.” Retrieved from Accessed on April 18, 2018.

  6. U.S. Navy, “Vessels.” Retrieved from Accessed on April 18, 2018.

  7. The Expert Institute, “Nuclear Submarine Machinist Gets Mesothelioma From Asbestos Exposure.” Retrieved from Accessed on April 18, 2018.

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