Asbestos in U.S. Navy Destroyers

Many U.S. Navy veterans and other military members have spent countless hours on various types of ships that were constructed with asbestos. During the peak years of ship construction at the start of the 20th century through the mid-1970s, Navy ships widely used asbestos products and materials for construction purposes. Therefore, all service members and workers who lived on or worked on these ships were exposed to the toxic mineral. There are a variety of Navy ships affected by asbestos, including U.S. Navy destroyers.

Throughout the vast history of Navy ships, the purpose of U.S. Navy destroyers changed over time. When destroyers first were developed, the principal purpose was to escort larger vessels and provide a dominant defense against enemy submarines, aircraft, and short-range ships. In the years leading up to the 20th century, the torpedo boat had become a significant threat. The U.S. Navy then began constructing counterattack ships that could quickly obliterate torpedo boats. These ships were known as torpedo boat destroyers.

In the modern era, Navy destroyers are built considerably larger and have a greater capacity to defend against attacks from all capacities, including air attacks. The latest improvements in ship design and technological advances have added to the modern versatility of these ships. Today, destroyers not only perform operations and missions with various groups, but also can handle with ease independent defensive and offensive assignments.

Destroyers built prior to the 1970s represent just one of many different classifications of Navy ships that were constructed with asbestos-containing products and substances. A top reason the Navy cited for using asbestos was the mineral’s many versatile properties. Asbestos was resistant to extreme heat, an incredible insulator, provided unparalleled fire-proofing capabilities and was extremely affordable. Asbestos quickly became a top shipbuilding material. Navy ships, including destroyers, had asbestos-containing floor tile, piping insulation, valves and gaskets.

Asbestos Exposure Risk in US Navy Destroyers

Since asbestos was so widespread aboard these ships, nearly every area that service members occupied put them at risk for asbestos exposure. Common areas, sleeping quarters, laundry rooms, and engine and boiler rooms are just a few examples where harmful exposure to the toxic substance could be found. Numerous archived reports show clear evidence of the widespread use of asbestos on Navy ships, including destroyers.

Asbestos was used above deck as well as below deck, which resulted in a higher risk because of the weak ventilation in the smaller rooms below deck. Asbestos fibers lingered in the air and sailors were not able to escape toxic exposure. Navy veterans who repaired damaged pipe insulation and boiler room workers have the highest risks of experiencing toxic levels of asbestos exposure. Numerous Navy veterans have testified and reported serious lung conditions attributed to asbestos exposure aboard Navy ships.

A veteran who served many years on USS Benner went public with his experience with asbestos. He reported having to wear gloves made with asbestos, sleeping in quarters that had exposed asbestos, and seeing deteriorated asbestos falling from asbestos-covered pipes. These types of reports are vast and extremely detailed. The connection between asbestos exposure on these ships and asbestos-related lung illnesses and mesothelioma is massive and continues to grow.