Asbestos in Aircraft Carriers

Less than a decade after the world witnessed the historical, first manned airplane flight, a newly developed U.S. Navy aircraft carrier first appeared. These new aircraft carriers evolved from cruisers to new, improved, super-class warships. Historically, both World Wars utilized these aircraft carriers, and World War II specifically showed the vital role that these types of ships could play in naval operations.

Asbestos Use in Aircraft Carriers

Long before the hazards and toxic health risks about asbestos were known, the U.S. Navy integrated the asbestos mineral into over 300 products that were deemed important to the operation of the ships. The Navy found the fire-proofing ability of asbestos to be an irreplaceable asset because of the potential for fires aboard warships.

Asbestos was no doubt a top choice material for fire-proofing and also insulating. The extensive use of asbestos all over Navy ships has posed serious dangers to shipbuilders and service members alike. Medical researchers have labeled asbestos a powerful carcinogen.

Confirmed Asbestos Use in Aircraft Carriers

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise is an example that shows the widespread asbestos use on these ships. Many archived documents confirm the insidious use of asbestos products aboard U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. Documents such as repair logs, purchase orders, and memos show a direction connection to asbestos use.

Ship records from the USS Enterprise showcase the abundant use of asbestos specific to that ship. Documents from the late 1950s and early 1960s prove without any doubt that asbestos-containing gaskets, insulation, and tile all were used on the carrier. The unfortunate problem is that asbestos laden gaskets could be located in main condensation pumps; main feed pumps, and also tube sheet exchangers. It was widespread and uncovered in many more places.

For insulation purposes, asbestos cloth was inserted into all of the ship’s piping and all related gears. Everyone aboard also was exposed to asbestos tile. The USS Enterprise was not the only aircraft carrier severely affected by over abundant asbestos use. Ships also affected with extensive use of asbestos include the USS Ranger, USS Forrestal, USS Independence, and USS Saratoga.

Who was at Risk to Asbestos Exposure in Aircraft Carriers?

During the aging process of asbestos, the material will deteriorate and release microscopic toxic fibers into the air. The daily exposure to service members aboard these carriers increased the risk and chances of developing serious respiratory illnesses later in life, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Before the mid-1970s, when the danger of asbestos was known to the public, almost all U.S. Navy aircraft carriers utilized and contained large quantities of the toxic material. It was standard practice to incorporate asbestos into hundreds of products. These products were then used in constructing many common areas and even sleeping quarters. Many of the carriers had asbestos located in the laundry rooms where service members received their clean uniforms. Service members who lived and worked in asbestos-contaminated compartments most likely have been exposed and could be at risk.