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Asbestos and Navy Ships

 

Starting in the 1930s and continuing through the mid-1970s, the U.S. Navy employed asbestos-containing products in its ships and shipyards.  Considering the important fire safety requirements aboard sea-going vessels, asbestos was primarily used for its tremendous heat and fire resistance. In fact, asbestos became so valued that the Navy mandated the use of this natural mineral and used the caustic substance in more than 300 materials for construction and repair aboard warships and at shipyards.

Asbestos was primarily used in insulation and for materials located in engine and boiler rooms, where heat resistance remains of paramount importance.  Those who worked below deck, such as boilermakers, were heavily subjected to asbestos fibers.  Boilermakers had to maintain, install, and repair the asbestos-insulated boilers in naval vessels, which easily release asbestos fibers through normal operations. 

Practically no portion of a naval ship built before the 1970s is free of asbestos.  Utilized in fire, engine, and boiler rooms, as well as mess halls, navigation rooms, and sleep quarters, sailors and shipyard workers were utterly immersed in the dangerous material.  In addition to these locations on ships, products such as adhesives, gaskets, valves, cables and numerous others contained asbestos.

As early as 1939 the Navy's Surgeon General was fully aware that prolonged exposure to asbestos was causing asbestosis in personnel.  A shocking fact to many people, the general's report detailed health conditions at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and revealed the yard's pipe covers and insulators exposed workers to deadly asbestos dust.  Regardless of this vital knowledge, the Navy continued to use asbestos for almost four more decades, implying industrial production was more important than human safety.

The often claustrophobic close quarters aboard vessels and shipyards unavoidably led to countless asbestos materials receiving damage through standard operations.  This resulted in the inhalation of asbestos fibers and attachment to clothing.  Unfortunately for the families of Navy personnel, workers regularly carried asbestos dust home on their clothes, which unknowingly exposed family and friends to the toxic compound.  For more information on the various shipyards that have posed an asbestos threat, please visit Asbestos Exposure in Shipyards.”

Those who worked in the construction, repair, demolition, and renovation of ships and shipyards were routinely exposed to asbestos, many in high quantities for extended periods of time. Naval personnel stationed aboard the asbestos-laden warships were commonly showered in asbestos dust.  Many remember sleeping in bunks underneath asbestos-covered pipes that required them to shake the dusty material of bunks on a daily basis. Asbestos’ serrated atomic structure makes the mineral very brittle and causes it to readily break into particles.  These minuscule particles are easily inhaled quickly attach to the internal lining of the lungs, abdomen, and heart.

Thankfully, since the mid-70s fewer amounts of asbestos-containing materials are used on new vessels.  But this has not put an end to asbestos exposure on naval vessels.  In the early 1990s, the Navy started the process of selling dozens of obsolete ships for scrap materials.  The dismantling of these contaminated vessels commonly occurs in depressed ports where no protective measures are taken and the vast majority of workers are not trained to handle asbestos.  Shocking as it may be, some naval ships still contain asbestos, as the material is possibly imbedded in brakes, clutches, gaskets, or older construction materials.

  For more information on the dangers of asbestos and associated diseases, such as mesothelioma, please visit Asbestos.com