Navy veterans who served from the 1930’s through the 1990’s were exposed to asbestos that was widely used in ship building and construction materials. Nearly every ship commissioned between 1930 and about 1970 contained several tons of asbestos insulation used as a fireproofing measure in the engine room, along the miles of pipe aboard ship and in the walls.
Thermal insulation was the Navy’s major use of asbestos aboard ships. The Navy issued a policy in October 1975 to eliminate the use of asbestos and materials containing asbestos, where suitable alternate materials have been designated, after specifications had been revised to eliminate asbestos as an acceptable material for thermal insulation. Although product specifications for thermal insulation had been changed in 1973 to specify the use of asbestos-free materials, asbestos materials had already been purchased and in some cases installed in ships under construction. Therefore, some ships were delivered with asbestos insulation as late as May 1978.
Types of military ships containing asbestos included:
- amphibious assault ships
- patrol boats
While the use of asbestos as thermal insulation had been eliminated, asbestos use continued for other Navy applications. Asbestos fibers were incorporated in:
- brakes and clutches in Navy ship equipment
- tiles on Navy ship decks
- the plastic-like body of certain electrical resistors found in Navy electronic equipment
- electrical cabling in Navy galley ranges
- piping system gaskets and packing
Navy veterans who manned these ships and the men who repaired them in shipyards were prime candidates for asbestos related diseases such as mesothelioma. Navy veterans at risk include:
- Navy veterans involved with removing damaged asbestos lagging in engine rooms and using asbestos paste to re-wrap the pipes.
- Navy veterans who were involved in renovation or removal of asbestos-containing structures or materials.
- Navy veterans who worked below deck before the early 1990s, where asbestos was often used with poor ventilation.
- Navy veterans who served on ships whose keels were laid before 1983.
- Welders, pipe fitters, boiler operators, building renovation and demolition specialists who worked in the military services before the mid-1990s.
The concept of a one-time total asbestos removal on all ships was reviewed by the Navy in the late 1970s. With an estimated cost for total asbestos replacement in all ships at nearly $2 billion, the Navy decided not to adopt a one-time total asbestos removal policy.