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Asbestos Exposure on Navy Ships

Asbestos was used extensively on Navy ships during most of the 1900s, exposing millions of military personnel to asbestos, particularly those serving in the United States Navy. Exposure to asbestos on Navy ships can lead to mesothelioma and other devastating illnesses decades after exposure. If you worked in a Navy shipyard or served aboard a Navy Ship and have developed an asbestos-related illness, you may be eligible to recover significant financial compensation.

Legally Reviewed By: Sam Taylor
Managing Attorney | Mesothelioma & Asbestos in Houston

Sam Taylor

Legally Reviewed By: Sam Taylor
Managing Attorney | Mesothelioma & Asbestos in Houston

The highest risk of asbestos exposure in the Navy occurred aboard Navy ships and in shipyards. Asbestos was used heavily on Navy ships because it insulates against heat, water, and corrosion. It was used in plumbing fixtures, adhesives, industrial compounds, cabin insulation, the mechanical parts of ships, and the hull. It was common for the entire hull of Navy ships to be lined with asbestos.

The Navy used asbestos on Navy ships for decades after learning it was hazardous. During World War II, the demand for the material on Navy ships was so high that it was temporarily prohibited for civilian use so that all the asbestos in the United States could be reserved for the military, primarily the Navy.

Sailors who served below deck on Navy ships in engine rooms, boiler rooms, and areas that controlled ship propulsion faced the heaviest asbestos exposure. While asbestos exposure on Navy ships primarily affected Navy personnel, passengers, shipbuilders, and others who spent time on the ships were likely exposed, including Marines transported to their posts.

When Were Military Personnel Exposed to Asbestos on Navy Ships?

Asbestos was first used in Navy ships during the 1880s, but it became an essential shipbuilding component in the 1930s. The usage continued until the mid-1970s, when the public became aware of the substance’s dangers. However, the Navy continued to use asbestos in Navy ship keels until 1983 and in machinery below deck through the 1990s.

The Navy considered asbestos an essential material due to its lightweight, fire-resistant, and insulating qualities. It was also inexpensive and widely available. The demand for asbestos peaked during World War II. The Navy built over 1,000 ships from 1938 to 1945—all heavily laced with asbestos.

The Navy’s Surgeon General issued warnings about the dangers of asbestos exposure as early as 1939 and urged the Navy to require masks and exhaust fans in areas where asbestos was used. However, these warnings went unheeded during the war and for decades afterward.

While these measures may have reduced asbestos exposure had they been implemented, we now know they would have fallen short of providing full protection from its effects. However, failure to implement even these meager measures almost certainly increased the risk of mesothelioma in military personnel.