Manufacturers used asbestos in a wide variety of products. According to the U.S. Navy, hundreds of products containing asbestos were used regularly throughout the shipbuilding process. Naval vessels typically contained asbestos materials for fireproofing in areas such as the boiler and engine rooms and other areas below deck. However, asbestos-containing products could also be found in areas like mess halls and sleeping quarters. The military’s use of asbestos continued into the 1970s until the health dangers of asbestos became widely known and the federal government worked to regulate asbestos-containing materials. However, some asbestos-containing products were still approved for use on-board.
Typically, the asbestos-containing products used on-board ships served to insulate and to provide fireproof alternatives compared to previous materials. Some applications included pipe covering to insulate hot steam pipes, and hot water and fuel lines. Frequently, products made with asbestos coated underwater hatches and boilers and also doors on the deck. Asbestos could also be found on ships in the following places:
U.S. Navy veterans have a high incidence of asbestos-related diseases as a consequence of the amount of asbestos used both in shipyards and on-board naval vessels. This increased their risk for mesothelioma and other diseases caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos affects the health of naval veterans in many ways, depending on how long exposure lasted. It also depends on how the asbestos entered the veteran’s system. Different jobs in the Navy led to different types of exposure. Some of the high-risk jobs included ship fitters, machinists, pipe fitters, pipe coverers, boiler makers, electricians, welders, riggers, and engineers. The resulting conditions include:
- Thickening of the pleural portion of the lungs. These and other conditions are caused by asbestos fibers becoming lodged in the pleura. The resulting lung scarring can spread throughout the area.
- Asbestosis, which is caused by the scarring that occurs in the lungs. The damage can prevent the lungs’ normal expansion and contraction.
- Mesothelioma, a rare form of incurable cancer.
The number of mesothelioma cases is relatively low compared to other cancers. However, the high fatality rate makes it a serious health threat for U.S. Navy veterans. Along with the victims of the cancer who have been diagnosed after direct exposure to asbestos, there are also many individuals who have gone on to develop the disease after indirect exposure to asbestos. Regardless of the form of exposure, all asbestos contact should be avoided.