Asbestos in Submarines

U.S. Navy submarines are grouped into three key classifications: Guided Missile, Attack, and Ballistic Missile.

Ballistic missile submarines, nicknamed Boomers, carry out tactical deterrence missions. These vital missions provide the United States with its most stable nuclear strike potential. Boomers are specifically designed for precision launches of nuclear warheads. Ballistic missile subs served in both World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and during the Cold War years.

Guided missile submarines provide the U.S. Navy with an unparalleled mixture of strike and special operation mission capacity. Attack submarines are mostly concerned with surface vessel destruction and destroying enemy submarines. The modern versions of attack subs have additional purposes and equipment such as Tomahawk cruise missiles, mine warfare capability, intelligence execution, battle group operations support, and surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

How was Asbestos Used in Naval Submarines?

During the peak years of Navy vessel construction, the U.S. military included an extensive amount of products that contained asbestos during the construction and repair of Navy ships. Asbestos has the ability to resist heat, is extremely versatile, affordable, and has incredible insulating capability. These factors contributed to its widespread use in Navy shipbuilding.

Asbestos also can be manipulated so that it may fit into very minute spaces. Submarines have numerous tiny, cramped spaces, and the U.S. Navy decided to use asbestos because of its flexibility and lightweight properties, among other reasons. Since subs are underwater ships, the extreme danger of fires is of great concern. The Navy viewed this as an important reason to use asbestos products aboard in their construction. Asbestos, specifically chrysotile asbestos, was used extensively for insulation purposes, while amosite asbestos was applied for lightweight insulation needs.

The daily use of asbestos products aboard these submarines most likely released asbestos fibers into the air. Extended exposure and inhalation of asbestos fibers can result in the lining of the lungs becoming embedded with the toxic material. Over time, fibers lodged in the lining of the lungs can lead to asbestos-related illnesses, tumor growth and mesothelioma.

Archived documents provide absolute confirmation and proof that asbestos products were extensively used aboard submarines. Many of these documents specify the use of asbestos gaskets for flanged valves that are utilized most frequently in torpedo rooms.

Navy submarines were constructed during the 1920s through the 1970s. Navy shipyard workers, and men responsible for construction, maintaining, and repairing the subs during those decades, are those considered at the highest risk for asbestos exposure, which can result in asbestos-related health complications and illnesses. During insulation jobs, numerous workers were required to manipulate pieces of asbestos that often caused asbestos fibers to become airborne. The risk was heightened when the standard replacement of gaskets increased the danger of inhaling toxic fibers.

The enormous use of asbestos all over submarines put everyone on board at serious risk. Crew members were required to spend extended amounts of time in small subs, which significantly increased their risk of toxic exposure. These unfortunate circumstances have resulted in many veterans contracting serious asbestos-related lung conditions and mesothelioma.