Asbestos in the NavyAsbestos was widely used in virtually every part of Navy vessels built, particularly during World War II up until the early 1980s when its use was discontinued.  Veterans of the U.S. Navy make up the largest percentage of veterans with mesothelioma.

Navy Veterans and Mesothelioma

Military veterans make up about 30 percent of all mesothelioma victims and the largest percentage of these come from the Navy.  Asbestos was used in countless ship going vessels of all types and anyone who worked in or near ship building or who were present in these vessels is at increased risk of mesothelioma.

Asbestos Exposure in the Navy

  • Asbestos Use

During World War II, shipbuilding in the Navy increased dramatically due to military involvement.  Veterans serving during and after WWII may have been exposed to asbestos.

  • Ship building

Virtually all of the ships, submarines and other sea-going vessels constructed during WWII, up until the 1980s used asbestos as insulation and in many other parts of ships.

  • VA Benefits

Navy Veterans who were exposed to asbestos during active-duty may be eligible for compensation for related disease.  Those veterans with mesothelioma may be eligible for the maximum compensation including spousal recovery in some cases.

Asbestos Responsibility

Prior to the discontinuation of asbestos use, few reports were available regarding its safety.  Though manufacturing companies may have known about these risks, disclosure was not readily available and most Navy personnel were unaware of the dangers.

These companies actively worked to prevent exposure of knowledge of the dangers from sailors, administration and the government at large.  The Navy was not the only branch of the military affected but Navy Veterans faced the most exposure and are at highest risk for mesothelioma and related disease.

Though it is important that Navy Veterans are aware of the military’s lack of responsibility, Veterans should be aware of their eligibility for assistance through the Veterans Administration.

Veterans Administration Compensation

Navy Veterans make up the largest portion of veterans who develop mesothelioma.  Because it is such a serious disease, many Navy Veterans may be eligible for the maximum in VA compensation which may include disability payments, spousal and children support and medical coverage.

Getting assistance from the VA is a Veterans right, however navigating the VA system can prove challenging.  Navy veterans and others who served in the military should seek help from a person who is an expert in obtaining VA assistance.

Hundreds of Ships are Affected

Virtually every ship that was commissioned from the 1930s to the late 1970s was constructed with asbestos containing materials.  Almost 400 products containing asbestos were used in ship, submarine and sea-going vessels.

Asbestos was so widely used because the heat generated by engines and other systems posed a threat to personnel and ship integrity.  Asbestos was considered a marvel in fire-proofing and heat insulation.

Unfortunately for sailors and ship personnel, confined spaces and limited air flow posed an increased risk for inhalation of asbestos.  It was present in virtually every space of the ship and may have been ingested from dust which contaminated eating areas and personal space.

Asbestos was not just used on large ships.  It was used on every size and type of vessel from aircraft carriers to small patrol boats to submarines.  It was also used in airplane construction and vehicle manufacturing, military construction and other fireproofing protection.

Ship areas which were likely constructed with asbestos include

  • Engine rooms
  • Boiler systems
  • Insulation
  • Deck tiles
  • Firewalls
  • Doors
  • Pipe lagging and fittings
  • Seals
  • Wardrooms
  • Berthing spaces
  • Galleys and mess halls
  • Pump rooms
  • Living quarters

This widespread use puts any veteran who was present on a Navy vessel constructed between the 1930s and late 1970s in danger of having been exposed to asbestos and at increased risk of mesothelioma development.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, asbestos use was largely discontinued in shipbuilding after the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration began enforcing civilian regulations but many of the vessels constructed during this time still contain asbestos.  It is slowly being phased out but risk remains for those on contaminated vessels and those tasked with containment or removal.

Navy Ratings at Risk

Naval Shipyard workers and sailors who were stationed in vessels under construction or during overhaul were at greatest risk for asbestos exposure.  This also includes command structure, officers and seamen.  Work conducted at shipyards due to building or replacement produces a large mass of dust with may be contaminated with asbestos.

The highest risk Naval occupations include:

  • Pipefitter
  • Boiler Technician
  • Welder
  • Hull Technician
  • Machinist
  • Damage Controlman
  • Machinery Repairman
  • Gunner
  • Boatswain
  • Electrician
  • Steelworker
  • Seabee
  • Aviation Machinist
  • Aviation boatswain
  • Storekeeper
  • Fireman

Development of mesothelioma is a high risk in Navy Veterans who worked in these jobs but any sailor, airman or other military personnel present on a seagoing vessel containing asbestos is at risk.

Assistance for Navy Veterans

Veterans of the Navy are the largest group of mesothelioma victims.  Veterans however are lucky in that they are eligible for compensation through the VA.  Compensation for many mesothelioma victims exposed to asbestos during active-duty service may be eligible for the maximum assistance amounts.  Navy Veterans with mesothelioma should seek assistance from a VA specialist familiar with mesothelioma cases.




American Cancer Society, (18 May 2015), What is Mesothelioma?, ACS, Accessed on 03 February 2016

National Cancer Institute, (2016), Malignant Mesothelioma – Health Professional Version, National Institutes of Health, Accessed on 03 February 2016

Military Advantage, (2016), Asbestos and the Military, History, Exposure & Assistance,, Accessed on 03 February 2016

Veterans Administration, (24 November 2015), Compensation, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Accessed on 03 February 2016

Veterans Administration, (24 November 2015), Public Health – Asbestos, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Accessed on 03 February 2016