Asbestos Exposure in the Navy

United States Naval ship on the horizon

Out of all United States military branches, the United States Navy's veterans have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. All veterans who have been diagnosed and whose diagnoses have been attributed to asbestos exposure during the time they served in the military can get treatment and benefits through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and may be entitled to compensation through VA claims and asbestos trust funds.

Asbestos on Naval Ships

Asbestos, a toxic mineral, could be found on nearly every Naval ship prior to the 1980s. Nearly a third of all documented mesothelioma diagnoses are from veterans, and we've only seen a fraction of those yet to come because symptoms can appear up to 50 years after asbestos exposure.

Fires were a routine occurrence and were a potentially devastating threat to Navy assets and personnel, making the extensive use of asbestos insulation an important aspect of ship construction. Asbestos was a choice material given its ability to contain heat and prevent fires, and it was a very affordable option.

Despite the growing awareness of the dangers of asbestos, it's still permissible for it to be used on Navy ships if there are no other alternatives. The Navy has taken great action to remove most asbestos from ships, however, some still remain on ships to this day.

Who's at Risk of Asbestos-Related Illnesses?

If you are a veteran or have a family member who is a veteran, you may be wondering who was and is at risk. All those who are considered at-risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses include:

  • Those involved in the repair or removal of damaged asbestos materials or asbestos insulation
  • Shipfitters and pipefitters: They were often required to saw through asbestos-covered pipes
  • Boilermen, enginemen, and those tasked with maintaining aircraft carrier boilers and engine rooms: They typically handled asbestos-containing gaskets and valves, and frequently removed damaged asbestos insulation
  • Shipyard workers involved in the construction of Navy vessels
  • Navy veterans and civilians who worked in any shipyard in the 1930s through the 1990s, as asbestos was widely used in shipbuilding during that time frame

Additionally, there are other individuals who may have done work on asbestos-containing naval ships, including:

  • Firefighters
  • Machinists
  • Electricians
  • Metalsmiths
  • Seabees (military construction)
  • Crew members performing routine maintenance on asbestos-containing parts or vessel infrastructure
  • Crew members in torpedo rooms
  • Gunner's mates
  • All crew members or civilians who worked on the construction of or served on minesweepers

It should also be noted that family members and close friends of Navy veterans and shipyard workers may also be at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses through secondary exposure. Asbestos fibers can cling to clothes, skin, and hair, meaning these fibers could have been brought home or carried to other places by veterans and shipyard workers- exposing others to the dangers of asbestos.

The Deadly Truth of Asbestos on Navy Ships

It wasn't until the 1980s that the deadly truth about asbestos became known by the Navy, at which time they promptly took action. Manufacturers of asbestos-containing products hid the truth from their customers and the public, all in the name of profits. Once the Navy became aware of the dangers, they began to equip their servicemen and servicewomen with breathing protection and worked toward ridding their ships of asbestos products. However, such actions took time, and service members may have still been exposed to asbestos following the exposure of its dangers in the 1980s.

The greatest dangers of asbestos exposure would have affected U.S. Navy veterans and shipyard workers who served between 1930 and 1980. Today, many U.S. Navy veterans, shipyard workers, and their family members are only now being diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses, many years and even decades after they were exposed.

Which Vessels Contained Asbestos?

In the Navy, asbestos was used on all naval vessels, with the greatest risk being to those below deck on minesweepers, warships, and submarines. This was primarily due to the need for insulation and fireproofing. Consequently, the combination of asbestos products, tight quarters, and poor ventilation allowed asbestos fibers to accumulate everywhere that service members worked, slept, and ate.

Aircraft Carriers

Archived documents confirm the existence of asbestos products on aircraft carriers, specifically gaskets, tile, and insulation. Records show it was used particularly in laundry rooms, laundry issue rooms, laundry receiving rooms, and boiler rooms.

Auxiliary Ships

Archived documents confirm the existence of asbestos products on auxiliary ships, specifically bulkheads, gaskets, insulation, pipes, cloth, lagging, decks, beams, girders, magazines, boilers, and fire-resistant sheets. Records show it was used particularly on ship decks, ready service rooms, refrigeration spaces, navigation bridges, and any part of the ship that was regularly exposed to the elements.


Archived documents confirm the existence of asbestos products on cruisers, specifically cloth insulation for valves and pipe flange cuffs, insulation and lagging, gaskets, packing rings, turbines, valves, gasoline meters, autoclaves, condensers, ventilation ducts, auxiliary condenser circulation pumps, gaskets used for elevator pit drainage pumps, and gaskets for piping on main boilers.


Archived documents confirm the existence of asbestos products on destroyers, specifically gaskets, adhesives, valves, lagging, deck matting, insulation, cloth on steam drums and F.O. heaters, and asbestos cement. Records show that it was used particularly in navigation rooms, engine and boiler rooms, service member sleeping quarters, and mess halls. It was also reported that gunner's mates who served (during the Korean conflict, in particular) were required to wear asbestos gloves while shooting guns and loading ammunition.


Archived documents confirm the existence of asbestos products on minesweepers, specifically insulation around engine boilers and other compartments the experienced high temperatures, steam pipes insulated with asbestos cement, cloth, and pipe covering. There was also confirmation of asbestos in packing, felts, pads, and gaskets all over the ships. More than 300 parts on minesweepers contained asbestos. Records show that it was used particularly in boiler rooms, engine rooms, service member sleeping quarters, and that asbestos was widely used in most areas below deck in all minesweepers.

Any Navy veteran who spent any amount of time on minesweepers is at risk of asbestos-related illnesses, as well as any shipyard workers who specifically worked on the construction of minesweepers.


Submarines required a lot of asbestos use due to their small, cramped spaces and the flexible, lightweight properties asbestos offered as an insulating material. The danger of fire is much greater for underwater vessels, and escape is much less possible, making the need for fire-resistant materials more pivotal.

Archived documents confirm the existence of asbestos products on submarines, specifically gaskets for flanged valves, piping thermal insulation, gaskets for main turbines, auxiliary power cables, cork insulation, felt used for machinery, and automatic drain valves.

Crew members onboard submarines spent long periods of time inside, meaning they had an especially high risk of significant exposure- especially when you consider that all air within submarines was recirculated.


If you or a loved one have received mesothelioma or an asbestos-related illness diagnosis, you may be entitled to compensation. The U.S. Navy provides many different options for their servicemen and servicewomen, including VA healthcare and benefits. Any legal claims brought forth would be filed against the manufacturers of asbestos products that were on Navy vessels, NOT against the U.S. Armed Forces. There are statutes of limitations on mesothelioma claims, so it's crucial for you to secure an attorney as soon as possible after diagnosis. Take advantage of our free case evaluation and we'll contact you with your options.


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