Seamen Exposure to Asbestos

Seamen (SN), Seamen Recruits (SR) and Seamen Apprentices (SA) were frequently exposed to asbestos. Seamen breathed asbestos dust in the course of their normal maintenance duties, during their watch-standing assignments, and as they lived and worked in the confined shipboard environment where asbestos insulation was ubiquitous. Unfortunately, the men who served in the Navy as Seamen were unaware of its dangerous properties. As a result, these men are at risk of contracting mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

Locations of Shipboard Service

Seamen were typically assigned to the non-engineering spaces for training, watch-standing, and maintenance duties. As a member of a damage control party, a Seaman served within all ship’s spaces where casualties or drills occurred. Seamen also spent time each day in the ship’s public spaces, such as the galley, berthing areas, lounges and recreational areas.

Primary Shipboard Activities

A Seaman Apprentice reporting aboard his first ship was typically assigned to one of the ship’s departments, such as Deck, Operations, Administration, Weapons, or Supply. Most new arrivals were temporarily assigned to the galley spaces for approximately 90 days of mess cooking duties.

Upon returning to his designated department, the new entry-level recruit was required to maintain the cleanliness of his assigned spaces and the associated berthing compartments. He was also assigned to various maintenance and repair efforts for on-the-job training in a wide variety of activities. These included preparing for and applying paint and repairing divisional equipment and systems under instruction.

A Seaman was also assigned a series of watch-standing duties where he learned the start-up, operation, shutdown and emergency procedures associated with the various pieces of equipment throughout his assigned spaces. His initial watch duties were simple and well-supervised, but over time he was expected to become sufficiently proficient in the various junior watch stations that he would be designated as “qualified” on that station. These activities routinely exposed the Seamen to the asbestos insulation on the ship’s equipment, which was often disturbed during these operations.

A Seaman’s Exposure to Asbestos

A seaman was also directly exposed to asbestos dust while he performed the routine housekeeping activities of his assigned division. Aboard Navy ships at sea, Seamen Apprentices and Seamen performed most of the routine non-engineering housecleaning chores. A seaman in a shipboard division frequently came into contact with the asbestos debris where insulation had been disturbed.

Hot water and steam-heating piping extended throughout the ship and traversed the operational and berthing spaces. Each seaman was assigned cleanliness responsibilities for a portion of these spaces. Shipboard piping systems typically utilized portable removable asbestos insulation pads over valves and other components subject to periodic maintenance and repair access. This same condition existed in the recreational and berthing areas to which a seaman was assigned.

This asbestos could be dislodged through the normal conduct of personnel traffic and activity, or by being bumped or damaged during some incident or proximate repair work. Even the physical shock of ship’s motion could release asbestos dust while in heavy seas or during gunfire actions.

The physical density of piping systems and equipment throughout the ship, even outside of the engineering spaces created a semi-industrial environment, with soot, oil, grease, insulation residue, gasket remnants, and other debris in abundance, especially during maintenance periods.

With significant circulating air flows caused by forced ventilation systems and given the innumerable nooks and crannies caused by the geometry of installed equipment and thousands of feet of piping and valves, it was a fact of life that dirt and dust were everywhere, and that cleaning it up was a difficult and dirty job. Unfortunately, much of this dust was made up of toxic asbestos fibers, putting the Seamen at risk for mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases.