Long before the dangers associated with asbestos were widely documented, more than 300 products readily available in US Navy ships contained the toxic mineral. Most navy ships were filled with asbestos because the Navy just could not resist the mineral’s great tensile strength, and resistance to damage, caused by heat and other chemicals. It was also very affordable compared to other materials.

The Navy’s affinity to asbestos may have been acceptable then, but it did expose countless sailors to asbestos related conditions like mesothelioma. Before the dangers of asbestos were well known, navigation rooms, mess halls, ship sleeping quarters, boiler rooms, engine closets and many other common spaces on Navy ships had asbestos.

Asbestos exposure in the navy

What Complications Are Associated With Asbestos Exposure In The Navy?

Navy personnel who worked on the ‘contaminated’ ships were unprotected from the dangers of asbestos. Unfortunately, asbestos fibers easily became airborne, passed through their lungs and embedded in their pleural mesothelium (the layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs). Persistent and prolonged exposure to these small harmful fibers may have led to a buildup that then grows into tumors. These tumors may become any of the many asbestos related conditions including Pleural, Peritoneal and Pericardial Mesothelioma.

Other asbestos related complications include; asbestosis which is an inflammatory condition that affects the lungs and causes coughing, shortness of breath and eventually scars the heart making it difficult to breath. Lung cancer and pleural plaques are also associated with asbestos exposure in the navy.

Studies also show association between asbestos exposure and some cancers; these include cancers of the throat, gastrointestinal tract, voice box, brain, kidney, bladder, and gallbladder among others.

Exposure To Asbestos On Navy Ships

Naval vessels constructed prior to 1970 used more than 300 materials that contained asbestos. Some of these materials were used in pipe coverings and insulation, hydraulic assemblies, grinders, gaskets, cables, paneling, aggregate mixtures, thermal materials, valves, packing materials, deck covering materials, capacitors, tubes, bedding compounds and so much more.

Asbestos contamination was wide spread in almost all the naval vessels; from frigates and the small patrol boats to battleships, submarines and even aircraft carriers.

Aircraft carriers

Aircraft carriers

The first aircraft carriers became operational in the early 1900s following the success of the first manned flight. After this achievement, the carriers became instrumental in more than 80% of all the Navy’s involvement or responses to international conflict. They remain the Navy’s main choice and served in the Korean War, Vietnam, and World War II.

Archived records that include repair logs, purchase orders and many other such related documents reveal that there was prevalent and extensive use of products laden with asbestos aboard Navy aircraft carriers. USS Enterprise documents covering the operational period between 1950 and 1960 highlights several cases where gaskets, tiles and insulations containing asbestos were used in several ship compartments.

Asbestos gaskets were also used in the ship’s main feed pumps, main condensate pump and tube sheet exchangers. Piping and other related parts in the ship also used cloth lagging containing asbestos. Exposure was in the vinyl asbestos tiles used in the vessels as well.

Because asbestos contaminated materials were bound to deteriorate with time, all servicemen and women exposed to the airborne fibers were at a heightened risk of mesothelioma and many other respiratory related complications later in life. Navy veterans whose major assignments included carrying out maintenance in the ship’s boiler rooms and engine compartments are thought to have been at high risk of exposure.



Between 1920 and 1970, the US Navy included a considerable amount of products containing asbestos in building and repairing naval vessels. This was even more so with submarines because the material’s lightweight and flexibility provided the necessary convenience needed to work on these vessels’ small and cramped spaces. Because the threat of fire is more real in a submarine than other naval vessels, the need for asbestos materials was more pressing here.

Archived records confirm elaborate use of products containing asbestos aboard submarines. Flanged valves in the torpedo rooms for instance used gaskets containing asbestos. Automatic drain pipes also used impregnated pure asbestos while insulation of thermal pipes used compressed asbestos and wire asbestos cloth.

Navy shipyard workers who constructed, repaired and maintained these vessels between 1920 and 1970 are among veterans most vulnerable to asbestos exposure in the navy. Many of these workers replaced old insulation with new ones in processes that sent asbestos fibers airborne.

Cruisers and Destroyers

Cruisers and Destroyers

Available documentation highlights the persistent use of asbestos in cruisers like USS Boston, USS Quincy, USS Baltimore among many other crafts. These documents show that the’ pipe flange cuffs and valves were insulated by asbestos cloth. Other aspects of lagging and insulation also used asbestos, along with condenser circulation pumps.

There is evidence to show that a Gearing-class destroyer USS Benner was fitted with a new asbestos deck matting after an old, badly worn-out one was removed. Navy veterans who were repairmen, welders, pipefitters and boiler workers may have been harmfully exposed.

Other Types of Naval Vessels In Which Veterans Might Have Been Exposed

  • Patrol boats
  • Minesweepers
  • Frigates
  • Escort carriers
  • Destroyer escorts
  • Battle ships
  • Auxiliary ships
  • Civilian merchant marine ships

Our Veterans Support Advocates

Regina Jackson

I am a proud Veteran of the United States Air Force. I served as a Missile Launch Officer in Missouri. I have been working as a Veterans Agent for the past 18 years.

I help Veterans deal with the Veterans Administration. Submitting a service-connected disability claim to the VA can be confusing and frustrating. I can clarify the process and help you receive your benefits. I live in Massachusetts with my husband (also a proud AF Veteran) and four children.

Abraham Avi Lebenthal, MD, MHA

Abraham Lebenthal M.D. is a general thoracic surgeon trained at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital division of thoracic surgery under leadership of Dr David Sugarbaker, with expertise in mesothelioma surgery.

As a veteran, he saw a unique opportunity to serve a community that has served this country in the past. The West Roxbury VA (WXVA) is a unique teaching hospital, affiliated with world-class universities (Harvard and Boston University). It is a true center of excellence within the VA system. After proper staging, we offer Tri-modal therapy including: surgery (extra pleural pneumonectomy vs. pleurectomy), chemotherapy and radiation.

All patients are reviewed at our multidisciplinary tumor board. We are proud to treat veterans from across the USA (the West Coast, to Florida, the Midwest, and of course the Northeast). They have bult a reputation as a unique center of excellence in the VA system for the treatment of mesothelioma. They routinely perform these complex operations with two attending thoracic surgeons.

Doctors Abraham Lebenthal and Daniel Cohen were trained at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the nations leading institution in the surgical treatment of mesothelioma. The other system in placethat enables patients from out of region to receive cutting edge therapy for there mesothelioma.

If you are a veteran who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma and would like to stay within the VA system, we would love to welcome you to our center of excellence. We can help cut through the red tape and facilitate a visit to our VA health center.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, let our patient advocates help you get the best care available. If you need free assistance with finding doctors, the best treatment centers, financial assistance, or more detailed mesothelioma information, contact us today. We are here to help.