Asbestos in Shipyards

Aerial view of a shipyard repairing a large ship

Historically, certain occupations have been associated with an elevated risk of asbestos exposure, including naval and non-naval shipyard workers and contractors. Between World War II and the Korean War, in particular, these shipyard workers came into contact with very dangerous levels of asbestos, increasing the likelihood of them and/or their family members developing mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases.

The use of asbestos was elevated during this time due to asbestos's ability to resist corrosion and high temperatures, making it an ideal material for use in shipbuilding. Asbestos could be found in concrete and floor tiles, doors, wall panels, around pipes, in sealants and glues, in boiler cladding, furnace firebricks, welding materials, and insulation throughout the ships. It was even used in some safety equipment and protective clothing, ironically.

It wasn't until decades later that the harmful effects of it became known to the military, as the reality of asbestos effects on health had been hidden by the manufacturing companies that provided it. It wasn't until the 1970s that the issues of asbestos were taken more seriously and the task of removing asbestos from ships began. The job has yet to be fully completed.

The result of such widespread use of asbestos in the United States military shipyards is an alarming, growing number of mesothelioma cases among veterans and shipyard workers.

Who May Have Been Exposed to Asbestos on Shipyards

It's estimated that approximately 4,500,000 individuals who worked in naval shipyards during World War II were exposed to asbestos. Jobs they may have held that had potential exposure include:

  • Insulators
  • Longshoremen
  • Shipbuilders
  • Pipefitters
  • Machinists
  • Boilermakers
  • Welders
  • Electricians
  • Painters
  • Construction workers
  • Oil and chemical workers
  • U.S. Navy members

Following World War II, the number of shipyard workers decreased to about 200,000, with slight fluctuations through the years depending on economic conditions and shipbuilding demand.

Unfortunately, the United States Navy regularly used asbestos even before World War II. The Navy specifically required new submarines to use asbestos during their construction, beginning in 1922. By 1932, 197 million pounds of asbestos was used annually in the U.S. Navy. By 1939, the U.S. government classified asbestos as a critical material and they started stockpiling it for future use. They used this asbestos in every branch of the military.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure from Shipyard Workers

Unfortunately, there is a chance that shipyard workers, particularly those that had heavy exposure to asbestos, exposed their loved ones. Asbestos fibers can cling to clothing, hair, and even skin, meaning that these fibers may have been accidentally brought home before a shipyard worker had a chance to wash it off. Despite never working an at-risk job, family members of shipyard workers are at risk of secondary exposure to asbestos.

Shipyards Where Asbestos Exposure Was Likely to Have Occurred

Shipyards in which asbestos exposure was highly likely to have occurred include:

  • Alabama Dry Dock
  • Albina Shipyard
  • Barbours Cut Docks
  • Bethlehem Steel Shipyard
  • Bremerton Naval Shipyard
  • Brooklyn Navy Yard
  • Caddell Dry Dock
  • California Navy Shipyard
  • Charleston Naval Shipyard
  • Consolidated Steel Shipyards
  • Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard
  • Defoe Shipyard
  • Duwamish Shipyard
  • Galveston Docks
  • General Dynamics NASSCO
  • GMD Shipyard
  • Groton Naval Base
  • Houston Shipyards
  • Hunters Point Naval Shipyard
  • Ingalls Shipbuilding
  • Kane Shipbuilding
  • Kaiser Shipyard
  • Lockheed Shipyard
  • Long Beach Naval Shipyard
  • Moore Dry Dock
  • Naval Station Everett
  • Naval Weapons Station
  • New York Shipbuilding Corporation
  • Newport News Naval Shipyard
  • Norfolk Naval Shipyard
  • Orange Shipbuilding
  • Pearl Harbor Shipyard
  • Pensacola Naval Air Station
  • Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
  • San Diego Naval Shipyard
  • San Francisco Drydock
  • Seward Ships Drydock
  • Sun Shipbuilding
  • Tacoma Drydock
  • Todd Shipyards
  • Washington Navy Yard
  • Willamette Iron and Steel Works

Shipyard Workers Currently at Risk of Asbestos Exposure

While widespread asbestos use was addressed in the 1970s, modern shipbuilders are still at risk. Asbestos regulations currently limit the use of asbestos but have not completely banned it. Current shipyard workers are at risk of asbestos exposure, as asbestos products are being used in new ship construction and are still present on some older ships. Any shipyard worker constructing, repairing, maintaining, or restoring ships is likely to be exposed to asbestos at some point in their career.

Holding Parties Responsible for Negligence

A piece of legislation called the Feres Doctrine currently prevents veterans from seeking compensation from the U.S. government forces through the court system. However, the U.S. government does provide disability compensation and health care benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to those veterans who suffer from asbestos-related illnesses. And while veterans may not be able to receive compensation through the court system for the government's negligence, they can for the negligence of the companies who knowingly sold these dangerous products to the government. Fill out our free case evaluation today and we'll contact you with more information.