While asbestos exposure has posed severe health risks to many individuals over the past century, few groups have been as terribly affected as those who served in the U.S. Navy. During much of the 20th century, asbestos was used extensively in naval ships—it was fire-resistant, an excellent insulator, and cheap. Unfortunately, this widespread use has led to severe health consequences for countless Navy veterans.

This article explores the reasons behind the high risk of asbestos exposure in the Navy, the roles most affected, and the impact on veterans’ health. Understanding these factors is crucial for raising awareness and addressing the long-term effects of asbestos exposure among Navy personnel.

Navy Service Members at a Higher Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Due to the extensive use of asbestos on naval ships, U.S. Navy service members have historically faced higher levels of asbestos exposure than certain other at-risk occupations. At the O’Brien Law Firm, the number of asbestos exposure cases we have worked on arising, at least in part, from service in the U.S. Navy leads us to agree. At one point in our firm’s history, nearly 50% of our asbestos clients had served in the military, chiefly the U.S. Navy.

Roles with the Heaviest Asbestos Exposure

Certain Navy occupations involved direct and frequent contact with asbestos materials, leading to a higher risk of asbestos-caused illness. These roles include:

  • Boiler tenders
  • Enginemen
  • Firefighters
  • Hull Technicians
  • Machinery repairmen
  • Machinist mates
  • Shipbuilders

Confined Spaces and Asbestos Exposure 

Naval vessels utilized countless asbestos-containing products. Aboard these ships, sailors lived and worked in confined, airtight spaces where the lack of air circulation allowed the toxic asbestos fibers to remain suspended for extended periods. These circumstances increased the risk of prolonged and heavy exposure for sailors. This constant exposure significantly increased the likelihood of developing severe asbestos-caused diseases, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.

Navy Vessel Equipment with Asbestos

Throughout the 20th century, the Navy relied heavily on asbestos due to its affordability, availability, and effectiveness as an insulator and fire retardant. This led to the widespread use of asbestos materials aboard ships, including:

  • Asbestos block insulation
  • Asbestos bulkhead panels
  • Asbestos cement
  • Asbestos gaskets and packing
  • Asbestos pipe covering
  • Boiler insulations
  • Turbine insulations
  • Valve, pump, and steam trap insulations

Each of these materials and components posed significant health risks, as installation, removal, and disturbances of these products released asbestos fibers and asbestos-containing dust into the ship’s enclosed spaces.

The Phase-Out of Asbestos in Naval Ships

The Navy’s use of asbestos declined in the mid-1970s, with significant reductions by 1979. Ships constructed after 1979 are expected to contain minimal or no asbestos. However, older ships, especially those built before this phase-out, may still contain asbestos, particularly in less accessible areas.

Legal Considerations for Affected Navy Veterans

While the Navy itself is not a viable defendant in asbestos-related lawsuits, there are other avenues for compensation. Veterans affected by asbestos exposure can file civil suits or bankruptcy claims against asbestos product manufacturers. Veterans Affairs (VA) claims are also an option, though they often provide less compensation and can complicate the legal process.

The O’Brien Law Firm’s Dedication to Military Veterans

At The O’Brien Law Firm, we understand the unique challenges faced by military veterans suffering from disease due to asbestos exposure. Our team is committed to aggressively holding the liable party(s) accountable in asbestos cases, helping our clients receive the compensation they deserve.

If you or a loved one served in the Navy and have been diagnosed with an asbestos-caused disease, contact The O’Brien Law Firm for a consultation. Our expertise and dedication make us a leading asbestos law firm in the Midwest, committed to fighting for your rights. Please call (314) 588-0558 or complete our online contact form and schedule a free case evaluation.