At the start of World War I, a newly designed and specialized ship was added to the U.S. Navy fleet. Known as minesweepers, these ships were constructed for the sole purpose of locating and removing naval mines. This task was significant, allowing naval operations to run at top capacity and permitting other ships to trade freely and transport safely. These specialized ships may be smaller than others, yet the job of mine detection is anything but.
Minesweepers can slice the anchoring cables attached to mines, which are then neutralized. Like numerous other Navy vessels, minesweepers have significant responsibilities, so the Navy made it a priority to build fire- and heat-resistant ships. Therefore, Navy vessels built between 1920 and the mid-1970s utilized asbestos in a vast amount of products and equipment on-board. Asbestos holds powerful fire-proofing qualities, resistance to heat, and incredible insulating capacity. Pipes, tiles, gaskets, and valves all were made with asbestos. This widespread use caused asbestos exposure among many service members and workers who served on minesweepers.
US Navy Minesweepers and Asbestos
In the shipbuilding industry, asbestos was a popular mineral because of its affordability, versatility, and fire-and heat-resistant properties. It was added to over 300 products and parts used to build and repair Navy ships. Asbestos was used not only in boiler and engine rooms, but also in many common areas. Sleeping quarters also had asbestos insulated pipes, as well as laundry rooms where sailors picked up their clean uniforms.
Asbestos could be found in all areas of the ships. Over time and during the aging process, asbestos will deteriorate and release toxic fibers into the air. Daily and prolonged exposure puts people at risk of fibers becoming embedded in the lining of the lungs. A buildup of asbestos fibers in the lungs may result in asbestos-related diseases or mesothelioma. For almost five decades, people working and living aboard these ships were subjected to hazardous exposure. Historical records prove the widespread use of asbestos on Navy ships. Archived memos, Navy purchase orders, and repair logs also confirm the extensive use of asbestos products.
Asbestos Exposure for Sailors in US Navy Minesweepers
Shipyard workers who built minesweepers and those responsible for the repair and maintenance of these ships are at the highest risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma. Above deck and below deck, veterans had few places to escape toxic exposure. Asbestos was dispersed in the same areas where these service members slept, ate, and worked.
Any U.S. Navy veteran who served on Navy vessels such as minesweepers is at a heightened risk for asbestos-related lung diseases, such as mesothelioma. Anyone who completed various tasks – including insulating pipes, welding, painting and electrical work – was unknowingly exposed to the toxic materials. In the mid-1970s, the U.S. Navy began to address the asbestos problem, but it was already too late for those who had been exposed for numerous decades while serving their country.