Asbestos Exposure and Shipyards


Asbestos use was widespread in the 1900s, and products containing this material were found at job sites across numerous industry segments. Many working at these job sites were at risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. By 1939, in the U.S., asbestos was classified as a critical material. As a result, manufacturers aiming to win military contracts were required to use asbestos in building the vessels.

During the Emergency Shipbuilding Program from 1940 to 1945, many shipyards throughout the country participated in the war effort and applied the mandated asbestos use. Shipyards were huge workplaces, with many people working on the site daily, so occupational exposure at shipyards was widespread. Tons of this mineral were transported to shipyards and applied throughout the new Navy fleet - the risk of exposure was high. All shipyard workers were exposed regularly to asbestos :

Individuals working in and around the Navy shipyards had an extremely high risk of exposure. Navy shipyard personnel were not trained to identify asbestos; without proper identification of asbestos and other hazardous materials, workers unintentionally jostled the asbestos when using it.

This caused asbestos particles and fibers to break off and become airborne, inhaled by unsuspecting victims. It was the case for many shipyard workers who risked exposure while working on various types of vessels :

  • aircraft carriers
  • battleships
  • cruisers
  • destroyers
  • escort carriers
  • frigates
  • minesweepers
  • oil tankers
  • submarines

These vessels were built to withstand extreme heat from engines and battles. To ensure this, products were made with asbestos to provide heat resistance, strength, and chemical durability. The asbestos materials were used in nearly every area of the ships:

  • on-board safety equipment
  • pipes and other inner workings
  • the body of ships

The equipment used in shipyards also contained a significant amount of asbestos material. Confined workspaces on ships made airborne fibers more concentrated, so those who worked below deck or in other tight quarters faced a higher risk of exposure. People who were doing repairs and maintenance deep into the mechanical areas of the vessel were especially endangered because of the typically poor ventilation and air circulation in these areas. Handling asbestos or working near it would facilitate breathing in or ingesting the particles, putting the workers at risk of asbestos-related disease. Those not exposed on ships may have experienced asbestos exposure in other shipyard areas:

  • boiler rooms
  • engine rooms
  • equipment shops
  • shipping and receiving bays

Asbestos Products That Put Shipyard Workers at Risk

Asbestos exposure in shipyards often stems from components such as gaskets and pipe coverings. It also involved loading and unloading asbestos-containing materials and parts from receiving areas onto vessels. The pallets, crates, and wrapping materials used to transport the products held asbestos fibers from the contents. The delivery of parts for the ship and the transportation to installation led to exposure. Anyone off-loading from a ship or hauling a load aboard was at risk.

The workers in shipyards were exposed to asbestos dust when the asbestos products were disturbed during ship construction or demolition. During construction, asbestos-containing products were sanded and customized to fit in the vessel, which can release asbestos fibers into the air. Old products may crack and fall apart through demolition, causing asbestos dust. The workforce in shipyards may have been exposed to asbestos from:

  • adhesives
  • insulation
  • boilers
  • gaskets
  • fireproofing products
  • cables
  • paneling
  • water pipes and steam pipes
  • pipe coverings
  • pumps
  • valves
  • welding rods

Shipyard workers experienced asbestos even if they didn't directly handle contaminated products as the airborne microscopic asbestos fibers could circulate throughout the shipyards and vessels. Those who did not directly come in contact with asbestos in shipyards may have been at risk of secondary exposure. It happens when asbestos fibers settle on the clothing and is inhaled or ingested by others. Secondary asbestos exposure may have affected the workers' family members and loved ones.

Unfortunately, until the shipyards and vessels are entirely cleaned of asbestos, the risk of exposure remains high for all Navy personnel, even if unintentional. Ships, shipyards, and storage areas where asbestos was used remain hazardous even after decades.

Another essential aspect to remember is that shipyards are divided into two groups: owned by the US Navy and private. None of the two are to blame for the asbestos exposure within a shipyard, only the companies that provided the asbestos-containing products. Veterans should know that neither the US Navy nor private companies are liable for their condition.

List of Shipyards Where Asbestos Exposure Occurred

Have You Been Exposed to Asbestos on a Shipyard?

If you worked in a shipyard and have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related cancerous disease, you may be eligible for compensation for the losses and expenses stemming from your condition. Former shipyard workers who develop asbestos-related malignant diseases may be entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit or asbestos trust fund claims. Those who lost a loved one to one of these diseases may qualify to file a wrongful death claim.

Finding the right attorney who can inform you about your legal rights and options and secure the rightful compensation is essential. We can help you by connecting you with respected attorneys for further information on how to benefit from the compensation you qualify for. Our website is designed to help veterans, and all individuals see if their ship or shipyard posed a threat to them.

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