Many Navy retirees are now being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases caused by exposure which occurred while serving aboard ships in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Because of the long latency period involved in all asbestos diseases, both cancerous and non-cancerous, it may take from 20-50 years or more from initial exposure to the time symptoms begin to appear. Anyone who served aboard ship or worked in the shipyards is at risk.
During and after World War II, the use of asbestos on U. S. Navy ships was greatly expanded as asbestos manufacturers helped in writing ship product specifications. This caused thousands of shipyard workers who helped lay down new ships, and sailors who served aboard them or helped with overhaul in dry dock, to be unknowingly exposed to dangerous asbestos dust when they cut, sawed, mixed or tore out products. Typical products included insulation used on boilers or other high temperature vessels, pipe covering, firebrick, asbestos cement, fireproofing sprays, asbestos gaskets and packing and asbestos cloth and gloves. Those who worked aboard ship as machinist mates, boiler tenders and firemen, as well as those working on aircraft, or in communications or construction, were exposed daily in the course of doing their jobs. Shipyard workers such as insulators, shipfitters, pipe fitters, welders, electricians, painters and laborers, carried out their trades in exceptionally dusty conditions and now carry the greatest risk of disease.
In the 50-year period prior to the mid-1970s, the asbestos industry manufactured insulation products that were installed in almost every building, home, school, ship, car and plane in America. Surprisingly, these same manufacturers knew about the long-term health risks associated with asbestos exposure, but chose to ignore the dangers. By the time the Navy became aware that asbestos products were harmful, it was too late for the thousands of veterans who became ill with asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma as a result of their unnecessary exposure.
After their military service, most veterans of the asbestos era led lives outside the military. They married, built careers and raised families, never knowing that their exposure to asbestos while in the military might cruelly shorten their lives. Decades later and near retirement, many of these men and women are being denied the pleasure of living out their golden years with family and friends.