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Asbestos on Navy Ships

From the 1930s through the 1970s, U.S. Navy ships, as well as ships of the Maritime Administration, were constructed using a wide variety of asbestos-containing products. Used primarily for insulation and fireproofing, these ships contained literally tons of asbestos in more than 300 products authorized by the Navy. Everyone who worked in the shipyards or aboard the ships was exposed to the potentially deadly effects of these products, and now, years later, are being diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses.

Nearly 30% of all cases of mesothelioma diagnosed each year involve Navy veterans who were exposed in the course of their military service. Many of these servicemen worked below deck in the boiler rooms, engine rooms and fire rooms of the ships where insulation was heavily used in boilers, turbines, pumps, valves and other equipment, however, no place aboard ship was considered safe. Even those who stood an occasional ‘fire watch’ or swept dust that had filtered down from an overhead pipe covering off their bunk were exposed.

During dry dock periods for repairs and overhauls, workers in all labor trades inhaled the asbestos fiber used by insulators, carpenters, machinists, painters and joiners. Some of the products used contained as much as 70% asbestos, and the use of raw asbestos fiber as a reinforcing agent was common. Crews living or working aboard ships during these periods were significantly exposed when products were removed and/or replaced. Large amounts of both crocidolite and chrysotile asbestos were used by the shipyards, but one of the most widespread uses of asbestos in navy ships was in amosite-based pipe insulation. Today, we know that amosite (brown asbestos) is one of the more dangerous forms of asbestos.