Navy Seamen at Risk of Mesothelioma

From the 1930s until the mid 1970s, U.S. Navy ships were covered in asbestos from stem to stern. Every type of Navy ship had asbestos insulation throughout the entire ship including destroyers, battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers, submarines, destroyer escorts, and all kinds of auxiliary crafts.

Tons of Asbestos Used on Navy Ships

Destroyers built in World War II had on average over 25 tons of asbestos insulation installed throughout, while World War II battleships had more than 450 tons of asbestos on them. Diesel-powered submarines also had asbestos insulation throughout. Even the 2,751 Liberty ships that were built during the war contained tons of asbestos.

While most of these asbestos insulating products were located in the boiler rooms and engine rooms, there were asbestos products on piping, fire mains, and other equipment outside of these machinery spaces. As the ships were operated and maintained, asbestos fibers were released and carried throughout the ship’s confined spaces.

Seamen of All Ranks Exposed to Asbestos

Crewmen of all ratings were exposed to asbestos on a regular basis. Read in more detail how the job responsibilities of the following Navy crewmen brought them into contact with asbestos.

  • Fireman (FN)
  • Fireman Apprentice (FA)
  • Machinery Repairman (MR)
  • Machinist’s Mate (MM)
  • Boiler Tender (BT)
  • Engineman (EN)
  • Electrician’s Mate (EM)
  • Interior Communications (IC)
  • Metalsmith (ME)
  • Pipe Fitter (FP)
  • Damage Controlman (DC)
  • Seamen (SN)
  • Seaman Recruit (SR)
  • Seaman Apprentice (SA)
  • Boatswains Mate (BM)
  • Quartermaster (QM)
  • Sonarman (SO)
  • Radarman (RD)
  • Electronics Technician (ET)
  • Radioman (RM)
  • Yeoman (YN)
  • Personnelman ((PN)
  • Storekeeper (SK)
  • Disbursing Clerk (DK)
  • Ship’s Serviceman (SH)
  • Dental Technician (DT)
  • Steward (SD)

Engine Room Exposure

Navy seamen of all ranks were exposed to asbestos as they performed their shipboard duties. Crewmen who worked in the engine rooms had heavy occupational exposure to asbestos since asbestos insulation covered all of the piping, equipment, and machinery that they operated and maintained on a daily basis.

Bystander Exposure

Seamen who served on the deck also had significant bystander exposure to asbestos through their normal maintenance duties, while standing watch, and as they lived and worked in the closed and confined shipboard environment where asbestos insulation was ubiquitous.

On a daily basis, all crew members were also exposed to the asbestos dust and debris carried amongst crew members on their bodies, clothing, tools and equipment. The crew intermingled during recreation periods, ate together, and slept in the same berthing spaces. As a result, all of the crew was essentially members of the same household and subject to exposure from shipboard activities which generated asbestos dust and carried throughout the ship.

Unaware of its dangerous properties, Navy seamen breathed asbestos dust every day. As a result, those who served in the Navy prior to the 1980s are at risk of contracting mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.