The Navy is the military branch most affected by the armed forces’ use of asbestos. Many Navy veterans who were exposed to asbestos and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma qualify for VA benefits.

Asbestos Use in the Navy

U.S. Navy

Navy veterans run the highest risk of developing mesothelioma due to the military branch’s heavy use of asbestos. The naturally fire-resistant mineral was used extensively in ships as protection against fire at sea. Asbestos use peaked during WWII, when the demand for ships skyrocketed – to meet this demand, the military turned to manufacturers who offered asbestos as a cost-effective, versatile insulative material.

Asbestos was used on every part of the ship, ranging from sleeping quarters to the boiler room, exposing Navy servicemen to the mineral’s cancer-causing fibers. According to the VA, millions of people serving in WWII alone were exposed to asbestos-containing products used to manufacture ships. It is important for Navy veterans to understand how they were exposed to asbestos and what options are available if they have been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

At Risk Navy Veterans

According to the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, a division of the VA, the following Navy servicemen are the most at-risk:

  • Navy veterans who performed their duty on ships made before 1983
  • Navy veterans who worked in shipyards between the 1930s and 1990s
  • Navy veterans who served below deck before the 1990s. Below deck, limited space and poor ventilation led to dangerous amounts of asbestos exposure
  • Navy veterans who worked in engine rooms without respiratory protection

There are also specific occupations connected to service-related asbestos exposure. These Navy personnel came into contact with asbestos-containing materials on a daily basis:

  • Boiler and Hull technicians
  • Engine Mechanics
  • Gunner’s Mates
  • Steelworkers and welders
  • Shipfitters

Where the Navy Used Asbestos

Almost every ship built by the Navy between the 1930s and 1970s contained asbestos. The Navy used asbestos to insulate the close quarters below decks and fireproof hazardous boiler rooms. The fire-resistant mineral was used in every part of the ship, including:

  • Storage rooms
  • Engine and boiler rooms
  • Mess halls
  • Sleeping quarters
  • Flooring
  • Cables, gaskets, valves pipe fittings (also known as pipe lagging)
  • Pumps, motors, condensers and compressors

As part of their daily duty, many Navy personnel had to remove damaged pipe lagging and re-wrap the pipe with more asbestos-containing lagging and asbestos paste. They often performed this work in tight quarters without adequate respiratory protection.

The Navy’s use of asbestos also extended beyond ships. Bases and military housing were built with asbestos-containing material. Exposure to the dangerous mineral even occurred until the early 1990s, when workers tore down these bases without proper protection against the microscopic asbestos fibers.

The areas the most risk for asbestos exposure were shipyards. Ships constructed with asbestos-containing materials were often built up and broken down at shipyards. This activity released large amounts of asbestos dust into the air, affecting servicemen, dockworkers and anyone in the vicinity of the shipyard.

Next Steps for Navy Veterans

Navy veterans exposed to asbestos during active duty have resources available to help pay for treatment. The VA readily recognizes the connection between asbestos and mesothelioma and offers veterans disability compensation. Our Veterans Help Team can provide Navy veterans the assistance they need to file a disability claim with the VA. Contact a member of our Patient Help Team to get more information about filing a claim.

Sources:

1. Exposure to asbestos: a resource for veterans, service members and their families. Retrieved on August 18, 2014 from http://www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/education/factsheets/asbestos-exposure.pdf.
2. Navy Veterans and Mesothelioma. Retrieved on August 18, 2014 from http://www.curemeso.org/site/c.duIWJfNQKiL8G/b.8578933/k.265C/Navy_Veterans_and_Mesothelioma.htm.