Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was frequently used by many American industries – including the military – during the 20th century. The military used asbestos in various construction and assembly projects for aircraft, vehicles, barracks, fireproof garments and nearly every Navy ship built before 1980. The substance was valued for its durability and heat resistance.

Due to the excessive use of asbestos, military asbestos exposure was a common occurrence – especially in the Navy. Now, U.S. military veterans make up at least 30% of all mesothelioma cases 


Where Was Asbestos Found on Navy Ships?

The durable and heat-resistant properties of asbestos made it the perfect material to use throughout the construction of Navy ships, as the vessels needed to withstand rough seas and the risk of fire aboard the ship. 

One of the most common asbestos-containing materials used in construction was asbestos insulation. It was used in nearly every instance that required insulation and heat protection, such as boiler rooms and engine rooms. Asbestos was also used to insulate electrical wiring and piping throughout Navy ships.   

Asbestos was built into countless other ship components, such as: 

  • Bulkheads
  • Decks
  • Engine room equipment
  • Main engines
  • Gaskets
  • Boilers
  • Turbines
  • Condensers
  • HPACs
  • Ductwork 
  • Valve packing
  • Equipment, machinery and vehicles on the ship


Which Navy Ships Contain Asbestos? 

Almost every single Navy ship built during the 20th century was known to contain asbestos. Due to World War I and World War II, military weapon and vehicle production was at an all-time high during the first half of the century. The military needed to produce strong ships quickly. 

In order to do so, asbestos was a fundamental material used to build the massive fleet of U.S. Navy ships, including: 


Each type of Navy ship was built to perform specific functions in support of the U.S. military efforts. The different ships may have contained asbestos in unique capacities. For more information about asbestos on specific Navy ships, use Mesothelioma Guide’s Asbestos Exposure on Navy Ships Search List.


Asbestos Exposure and the Health Risks 

Asbestos exposure was a frequent occurrence during the 20th century. Many common occupations regularly worked with asbestos, which resulted in countless people in America being victims of asbestos exposure. 

Exposure to asbestos didn’t stop once people left their job site for the day. The microscopic asbestos fibers often stuck to work uniforms, hair, shoes or anything else it could cling to, which often resulted in secondhand asbestos exposure for the family at home. 

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Any amount of exposure can cause serious health problems. In fact, asbestos exposure is the only cause of the rare cancer mesothelioma.

When asbestos is disturbed (sawed, demolished, repaired, ground, etc.), tiny asbestos fibers are dispersed through the air, forming cloud-like dust. Anyone near the asbestos dust cloud is at risk of exposure as the fibers can be unknowingly inhaled or swallowed.

Inhaling or swallowing asbestos fibers allows the toxic substance to infiltrate the body and become lodged into thin linings surrounding vital organs such as the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) or abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma). If the fibers become lodged in these linings, they can cause cell mutation and, eventually, tumor formation.

One of the challenges of mesothelioma is the long latency period of the cancer, which means it can take multiple decades for symptoms to appear after asbestos exposure. People don’t correlate their symptoms to asbestos exposure from 20 or more years ago, and this often results in misdiagnosis or late-stage diagnosis, which can make treatment difficult.

Due to the long latency period, it is important for people to be aware of asbestos and where it exists. Learning about the risks of asbestos exposure and if you were exposed is key to fighting mesothelioma.

If you were exposed to asbestos while serving aboard a Navy ship or any other branch of the military, contact VA-accreditted claims agent, retired LCDR Carl Jewett. He specializes in assisting U.S. veterans in filing for benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He can also connect you with Mesothelioma Guide’s nurse navigator, Karen Ritter, for any of your medical questions.    

    Sources & Author

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About the Writer, Camryn Keeble

Camryn Keeble is the senior content writer and editor for Mesothelioma Guide. She creates mesothelioma-related content for the Mesothelioma Guide website. Camryn's goal is to decipher advanced information regarding mesothelioma into informative, simplified content to educate those affected by mesothelioma. She also works diligently to raise awareness of mesothelioma and its effects on patients and their loved ones.