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Jonathan Rosenfeld
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March 2, 2023

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Asbestos, a carcinogenic mineral, was used in most US Navy ships built before the 1980s. Navy personnel who worked on these vessels may have been exposed to asbestos and are at risk of mesothelioma, a cancer primarily caused by asbestos fibers.

Fortunately, veterans with mesothelioma from service-related asbestos exposure can apply for disability benefits under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You could receive free or low-cost healthcare and compensation (payments) if you qualify for these benefits.

You could receive financial compensation if you or a loved one developed mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease due to military service. Our personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, can help you apply for these benefits and ensure you receive fair compensation for your losses.

Contact our mesothelioma lawyers at (888) 424-5757 for a free consultation related to asbestos on navy ships.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral consisting of fiber bundles that can be separated into thin, solid threads for numerous commercial and industrial purposes. Asbestos fibers resist fire, heat, and chemicals and do not conduct electricity, making them viable materials for many industries.

During both World Wars, asbestos was used to build Navy ships due to its physical and chemical properties [1] and relatively low cost.

Is Asbestos Banned in the US?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [2] banned most asbestos products in 1989. However, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned the regulation in 1999, resulting in a ban on new uses of asbestos in products that would be introduced after 1989.

Asbestos mining in the US was banned entirely in 2002. However, the country continues to import raw asbestos from other countries.

Despite its risks to human health, there is still no full ban on asbestos. In April 2022, the EPA proposed a ban on all uses of chrysotile asbestos, the only type still being imported today.

What Are the Consequences of Asbestos Exposure?

Asbestos is generally not harmful when undisturbed or undamaged. However, when asbestos-containing materials are agitated, damaged, or destroyed, they can release asbestos fibers into the environment.

These fibers are invisible to the naked eye and virtually impossible to detect without special equipment. Unfortunately, these properties make it easy for people to unknowingly inhale or swallow asbestos fibers.

When asbestos reaches the lungs or stomach, it can lead to mesothelioma, a cancer in the lining covering the internal organs (mesothelium). Mesothelioma is an aggressive and deadly cancer that can spread to other organs (metastasize). Usually, people exposed to asbestos develop the disease 20 or 30 years later.

Other malignant diseases associated with asbestos exposure include:

  • Ovarian cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Laryngeal cancer

Cancers possibly linked to asbestos include:

  • Stomach cancer
  • Pharyngeal cancer
  • Colon cancer

Asbestos exposure can also increase the risk of non-malignant diseases, such as:

  • Pleural effusion
  • Asbestosis
  • Atelectasis
  • Peritoneal effusion
  • Hyaline pleural plaques
  • Pericardial effusion
  • Pleural thickening

Did the US Navy Use Asbestos on Ships?

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) [3] War Related Illness & Injury Study Center, almost all Navy ships built before 1983 had asbestos-containing materials.

Asbestos was widely used for these vessels because of its fire resistance, corrosion resistance, and insulating and soundproofing properties. Furthermore, asbestos was affordable and widely available at the time. The Navy started using this mineral for shipbuilding in the 1930s, significantly increasing the number of vessels with asbestos.

The Second World War forced the military to build more ships, and the Navy used asbestos to construct its vessels faster. After the war, the Navy had over 6,700 ships, many decommissioned, converted to merchant marine ships, or scrapped post-war.

The following types of US Navy ships used asbestos-containing materials:

  • Aircraft Carriers: These vessels were essential during wartime, especially during World War II. The massive US aircraft carriers could hold more than 3,000 soldiers and spanned 1,100 feet, making them the largest warships ever built in naval history.
  • Amphibious Warships: In World War II, the Navy used amphibious warships to aid ground assaults from the water. These “gator navy” vessels include amphibious assault ships, command ships, transport docks, dock landing ships, and more.
  • Ammunition Ships: US Navy ammunition ships were used to carry ammunition, missiles, fuel, food, and other supplies to combatant ships at sea. They became staples during World War II and are still being used today.
  • Battleships: Although now obsolete, battleships were pivotal during naval wartime. Before World War II, the Navy used these large combat ships for assaults, coastal defenses, and shore bombardments. However, they were replaced by aircraft carriers in the second World War.
  • Cruisers: The US Navy used cruises as direct-combat surface ships when the production of battleships waned in the late 20th century. Every cruiser served a specialized purpose, including aircraft, battle, and missile cruisers.
  • Destroyers: These small Navy ships were built for speed and elusiveness, helping defend larger vessels from attacks by enemy ships. Destroyers are the most heavily armored and armed surface-combat vessels and are still vital in the fleet today.
  • Destroyer Escorts: The Navy built destroyer escorts, which are smaller than full-size destroyers, for anti-submarine and aircraft functions. These auxiliary ships helped defend unarmed merchant marine ships during the Second World War but were not as fast as destroyers. Today, destroyer escorts are called frigates.
  • Floating Dry Docks: These large structures provide flexibility to naval operations, allowing Navy ships to dock along shores where traditional dry docks are unavailable. Floating dry docks help haul and dock Navy vessels and maintain boats in isolated areas, serving as invaluable vessels throughout history.
  • Minesweepers: These specialized Navy ships were designed to safely detect, neutralize, and remove naval mines. They help defend vessels and crew from other ships and open essential supply lines.
  • Seaplane Tenders: The US Navy used seaplane tenders to support seaplane operations during the second World War. They are considered the first aircraft carriers.
  • Submarines: Navy submarines are powerful and deadly Naval vessels, providing strategic and tactical advantages in war. These stealth vessels have existed since World War I and are still vital to Naval operations today.
  • Tugboats: Also known as “workhorses” of the harbor, these small but sturdy auxiliary ships maneuver larger vessels in and out of ports, tow other ships, and conduct rescue operations on the open water.

Asbestos products were present in many Navy ship equipment and parts, including but not limited to:

  • Boilers
  • Cement sheets
  • Pumps
  • Gaskets
  • Turbines
  • Adhesives
  • Thermal insulation
  • Pipes and pipe insulation
  • Roofing and flooring materials
  • Panels
  • Caulk
  • Cables
  • Electrical wiring
  • Asbestos packing materials

Asbestos products were extensively used in engine and boiler rooms on Naval ships but could be found in many other parts of vessels from the brow to the stern.

The Dangers of Asbestos on Navy Ships

Unfortunately, the dangers of asbestos exposure were only widely known in the mid-1970s to the 1980s, and the Navy only issued a policy against asbestos materials in 1975. By then, thousands of Navy service members had already been exposed to asbestos and were unaware of the risks to human health.

Manufacturers of asbestos-containing products concealed the health risks from the public and the military for profit.

Asbestos is present in minute levels in the air, water, and soil. However, most people do not become ill from regular environmental exposure to the mineral. People who develop asbestos-related illnesses are typically exposed to asbestos regularly. Sadly, the most at-risk people include Navy veterans who worked on asbestos-containing ships.

Many Navy veterans were exposed to asbestos [4] during military service before the Navy stopped using asbestos-containing products for its fleet. However, some service members had higher exposures than others, including:

  • Boilermen: Service members who worked in boiler rooms before 1980 were at a higher risk of asbestos exposure because most steam boilers were made with asbestos insulation. Moreover, boilermen wore gloves made of asbestos for flame and heat protection.
  • Shipyard Workers: Navy shipyard workers built, repaired, and demolished aircraft carriers, destroyers, and other vessels, including the parts within these ships. These workers were frequently exposed to asbestos dust. When destroyed or damaged, asbestos-containing materials can quickly release fibers into the air, which can then be inhaled or swallowed.
  • Machinist’s Mates: Machinist’s mates worked on the engines and other equipment used to power Navy vessels. Engine rooms were usually full of asbestos materials, including asbestos gaskets, piping, and insulation. Unfortunately, these rooms also had poor ventilation, increasing the risk of exposure for workers.
  • Pipefitters: Navy pipefitters were responsible for removing and reinstalling insulation during ship construction and repair. This process likely caused existing asbestos packing to release fibers into the air from insulated pipes, increasing pipefitters’ risk of exposure.

Navy sailors and other service members who served aboard Navy ships containing asbestos are considered at risk of asbestos-related diseases, regardless of position. However, the risk is more significant for people with constant exposure to asbestos insulation and other materials, particularly those working in poorly ventilated rooms.

Other occupations with a greater risk of asbestos exposure include:

  • Mechanics
  • Plumbers
  • Gunnery technicians
  • Weapons specialists
  • Painters
  • Electricians
  • Welders and steel fabricators
  • Panel installers
  • Tile setters
  • Roof installers
  • Firefighters

Navy Ships Known to Have Used Asbestos Insulation, Equipment, and Other Materials

Approximately 60 Navy ships contained asbestos. Some prominent Navy ships included on the list are:

  • USS Harold (frigate)
  • USS Ticonderoga (aircraft carrier)
  • USS Morris (destroyer)
  • USS Dwight (aircraft carrier)
  • USS Nicholas (destroyer)
  • USS Badger (frigate)
  • USS Coral Sea (aircraft carrier)
  • USS Carl Vinson (supercarrier)
  • USS Nimitz (aircraft carrier)

Mesothelioma.net [5], a network of doctors helping mesothelioma patients and their families, provides a complete list of Navy fleet vessels that used asbestos-containing products. Check the list to see if you or a loved one worked on a Navy ship with asbestos aboard.

Is There Asbestos Aboard Today’s Navy Ships?

The US Navy started removing asbestos materials from ships in the 1970s when lawmakers began to restrict its use. However, removal has become tedious as asbestos materials become brittle with age. Workers must follow proper safety guidelines to prevent removal from causing asbestos fibers to aerosolize (turn into a fine spray into the air).

In 1999, the Navy addressed the health risks of asbestos abatement on decommissioned ships. The related policy on its Readiness and Care of Inactive Ships manual reads:

050-7.2.7 Handling and Removal of Asbestos Materials. Past naval shipbuilding programs have included extensive use of asbestos materials for shipboard installations, such as thermal insulation and deck tile. Occasionally, shipboard stores and consumable supplies left on inactivated ships include asbestos materials. It is incumbent on all personnel to familiarize themselves with the hazards of asbestos materials and safety procedures as cited herein. Commanding Officers will ensure that all hands are indoctrinated in safe handling procedures for asbestos materials.

Asbestos may still be present on some Navy ships today, although the Navy does not use the mineral for new construction. For decades, the material can linger in boats, bases, barracks, machinery, aircraft, and military vehicles.

Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases usually take decades to manifest into physical symptoms. If you or a loved one worked on Navy ships, consider getting screened for asbestos exposure.

How to Recover Financial Compensation for Asbestos Exposure

Former Navy personnel who served aboard Navy ships that contained asbestos may be eligible for VA disability benefits [6], including free or low-cost healthcare and compensation.

To be eligible for these benefits, the following must be true:

  • You were exposed to asbestos during military service
  • You did not receive a dishonorable discharge from the military

Moreover, you must file a disability claim and provide supporting documents, such as:

  • Military service records showing your service on a Navy ship that contained asbestos
  • Military discharge certificate
  • Medical records showing your illness or disability, e.g., mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis
  • A doctor’s statement connecting your asbestos exposure during military service and your illness or disability.

Aside from applying for disability benefits, you can also consider the following alternatives to recover compensation:

  • Asbestos Trust Fund Claims: Asbestos manufacturers failed to warn the public of the risk of developing mesothelioma and other diseases due to asbestos dust. Many of these companies tried to file for bankruptcy to avoid paying victims.

Fortunately, bankruptcy courts forced some of these negligent manufacturers to set up trust funds. Our lawyers can help you file trust fund claims to maximize your compensation.

  • Navy Ships Asbestos Exposure Claims: The government is not liable for asbestos exposure on Navy ships, meaning you cannot take legal action against the military.

Instead, you can file a personal injury or wrongful death claim against the manufacturers that produced that asbestos-containing goods.

Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Until the 1980s, asbestos was widely used on numerous military vessels throughout naval history. While these materials were intended to protect service members, the Navy unknowingly exposed thousands of military personnel to carcinogenic material.

Navy veterans can recover financial compensation from asbestos companies through personal injury claims or lawsuits. Moreover, every Navy veteran who developed an asbestos-related disease due to military service may be eligible for VA benefits. [7]

Our personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, can help you recover the financial compensation you deserve. Our attorneys have a proven track record in helping victims and their families obtain the financial support they need through government benefits, out-of-court settlements, or litigation.

Free Case Evaluation

Contact our personal injury law firm at (888) 424-5757 or use the contact form to schedule a free consultation. All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team will remain private under an attorney-client relationship.

Our attorneys handle all accepted military asbestos exposure cases on a contingency fee basis. This agreement ensures you do not have to pay our legal fees unless we win your case.

Resources: [1] PubMed, [2] Environmental Protection Agency, [3] Department of Veterans Affairs, [4] Cancer.gov, [5] Mesothelioma.net, [6] VA, [7] VA

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