Asbestos Use on Ships

Asbestos was in wide use on ships, because it was a cheap material that initially seemed miraculously useful in insulation and fire retardants. However, early in the 20th century it became evident that asbestos triggered certain diseases, some very serious. Despite the red flags raised by some, it continued to be used through the decades, until approximately 1980.

Consequently, anyone who worked on ships or in ship-building until that time may have been exposed, and anyone still working on ships built during that interval may still be exposed if asbestos fibers are dislodged and released into the air.

Especially for Navy and Coast Guard ships, asbestos was a constant in the building of the following:

  • pipes
  • electrical wiring
  • walls
  • boiler cladding
  • brake linings
  • gaskets
  • welding gloves
  • firemen’s equipment
  • ceiling panels
  • sealants
  • floor tiling
  • asbestos blankets

Most Exposed Veterans

Around a third of all mesothelioma cases diagnosed in the United States are in our veterans. Why is that so?

Asbestos exposure was very high on ships, not only because ships were built with extensive use of this dangerous mineral, but also because in enclosed spaces such as ships at sea, and especially in places with poor ventilation such as boiler rooms and engine rooms, asbestos could be released into the air and circulate there for hours and days, so that anyone within that space would breathe in it or swallow it unwittingly.

According to the VA, jobs with a probable or highly probable exposure risk include the following:

  • Builder
  • Boilermaker
  • Boiler Technician
  • Engineman
  • Electronics Technician
  • Fire Controlman
  • Fireman
  • Pipefitter
  • Fire Control Technician
  • Fire Control Technician (Guns)
  • Gas Turbine System Technician
  • Hull Maintenance Technician
  • Interior Communication Technician
  • Instrumentman
  • Molder
  • Machinist Mate
  • Motor Machinist Mate
  • Missile Technician
  • Painter
  • Sonarman
  • Soundman
  • Sonar Technician
  • Sonar Technician (Surface)
  • Sonar Technician (Submarine)
  • Torpedoman’s Mate
  • Utilitiesman
  • Water Tender

Shipyard workers were also exposed, since asbestos is friable and could be easily released into the air when working with it.

Asbestos Diseases

Asbestos diseases often take a very long time to develop and become detectable. Mesothelioma, the most serious of them, is notoriously slow to progress, taking up to 50 years to affect the person who suffered from exposure to asbestos. However, there are numerous other medical conditions that are caused or enhanced by exposure to asbestos.

The vast majority of them arise from direct and prolonged exposure; however, it is widely recognized that even brief or indirect exposure can have negative health effects.


Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that forms in the tissue that covers several internal organs, such as the lungs (pleural), the abdomen (peritoneal), the heart (pericardial) or the testes (testicular mesothelioma). Among its symptoms, depending on where exactly it is located, the most common are coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, weight loss and a swollen abdomen. Mesothelioma is one of the few diseases that is caused by mere exposure to asbestos. Over 80% of the mesothelioma diagnoses are in patients who suffered consistent and prolonged asbestos exposure.

Lung Cancer

The same signs that are visible in the case of mesothelioma - chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, lumps under the skin, weight loss etc. – are also present in the case of lung cancer. If the patient is or was a smoker, the doctor may immediately suspect lung cancer. However, an underlying cause could also be exposure to asbestos. If the patient has worked for a long time in close proximity to asbestos products, chances are that he/she has inhaled asbestos fibers that then lodged in the lungs. Over time these fibers that stick to the tissue can cause inflammation and lung cancer.

Cancer of the Bronchus

Signs of bronchial cancer include a wheezing and shortness of breath, persistent coughing, sometimes with blood, chest pain and pneumonia. The causes are unknown, although genetics and radiation may play a role. However, asbestos exposure is one of the factors known to increase the risk or enhance the symptoms of bronchial cancer. If you suffer from an underlying asbestos-related disease, such as pleural plaque, asbestosis etc., in conjunction with this type of cancer, you probably qualify for VA compensation benefits, as well as for asbestos trust funds compensation.

Cancer of the Larynx

Laryngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that forms in the tissue of the larynx (the segment of throat between the base of the tongue and the trachea). Its symptoms include ear pain, sore throat, hoarseness of voice, trouble swallowing, weight loss etc. While heavy smokers and heavy drinkers are more likely to get laryngeal cancer, exposure to asbestos can also significantly increase the risk of developing this type of carcinoma. Asbestos exposure is one of the factors known to increase the risk of laryngeal cancer.

Cancer of the Pharynx

Pharyngeal cancer is a type of cancer of the head and neck that forms in the tissue of the pharynx. Signs of pharyngeal cancer include ear or jaw pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing, chronic sore throat, hoarseness, coughing and weight loss. Asbestos exposure is one of the factors known to increase the risk of pharyngeal cancer. If you suffer from an underlying asbestos-related disease, such as pleural plaque, asbestosis etc., you probably qualify for VA compensation benefits, as well as for asbestos trust funds compensation.

Cancer of the Urogenital System

Urogenital cancer is in fact a number of separate types of carcinomas, including breast cancer, renal cell carcinoma, bladder cancer, testicular cancer, squamous cell carcinoma etc. They all develop specific symptoms and have different prognoses, depending on location and several other factors. Asbestos exposure is one of the factors known to increase the risk of urogenital cancer (except prostate cancer). In fact, the Veterans Benefits Association recognizes that urogenital cancer develops, for instance, in 10 percent of persons with asbestosis.

Gastrointestinal Tract Cancers

Gastrointestinal cancer can affect the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, gallbladder, pancreas. Symptoms vary, depending on the location of the cancer, as well as various other factors, but often include digestive problems and bleeding. Asbestos exposure is one of the factors that apparently increase the risks or enhance the development of gastrointestinal cancers. In fact, the Veterans Benefits Administration has acknowledged that gastrointestinal cancer develops in 10% of the people diagnosed with asbestosis.


Fibrosis is a generic term that refers to the formation of excess fibrous tissue in an organ or tissue. It is a process of scarring, just as asbestosis (also a type of fibrosis), as the body attempts to heal the site of an injury. Fibrosis can occur in the lining around the lungs (pleural fibrosis) or in the lungs (pulmonary fibrosis). Asbestosis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis are instances that prove exposure to asbestos and will help validate your claim for VA benefits and/or asbestos trust funds compensation.


Asbestosis is a chronic disease caused by the inhalation and retention of asbestos fibers. In time, these fibers lodge into the tissue of the lungs, causing severe scarring and inflammation. The inflammatory reaction takes place over a long period of time, so that asbestosis may be diagnosed decades after the exposure to asbestos has actually occurred. Asbestosis is known to increase the risk of developing lung cancer, mesothelioma and other severe medical conditions.

Pleural Effusion

pleural effusion is the excess buildup of fluid in the pleural space, i.e. around the lung. Some of the symptoms of pleural effusion could be chest pain and shortness of breath, along with persistent coughing, sometimes with blood, and fevers and/or chills. Pleural effusion is a well-known hazard for people who were exposed to asbestos. If you suffer from this condition and were exposed to asbestos while in your employment with the U.S. Armed Forces, you qualify for VA compensation benefits, as well as for asbestos trust funds compensation.

Pleural Plaques

Pleural plaques are deposits of collagen in the membrane around the lungs, causing a thickening of the membrane in places. They are a clear sign of asbestos exposure, as fibers inhaled tend to stick to the lining of the lungs and cause inflammation. Pleural plaques tend to build up over a long time, typically 20-30 years after the actual exposure has taken place. They are, however, important in demonstrating that prolonged exposure to asbestos has taken place and might have led to serious health problems elsewhere.

VA Compensation for Veterans with Asbestos Diseases

For decades now, the U.S. Government has admitted its failure in maintaining a decent standard of health and safety for workers exposed to asbestos. To that point, it has put in place special procedures to grant special benefits to those who became ill from asbestos exposure during their service. To be entitled to these special benefits, you have to demonstrate eligibility by providing proof of:

  • employment with the U.S. military forces
  • exposure to asbestos while employed by the U.S. military
  • an asbestos-related disease or disability acquired while in military service

Once you have proven the above, you will qualify for one of the following types of benefits provided by the VA:

Disability Compensation

A monthly, tax-free payment dependent on the level of disability caused by asbestos exposure. The highest level of disability is considered to be that created by mesothelioma. Compensation also depends on the number of dependents.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation

A monthly benefit granted to the surviving spouse of a veteran who died from an asbestos-caused condition; it is dependent on the veteran having already received service-related compensation before death.

VA Health Care

Benefits dependent on the level of income of the veteran or the seriousness of the disease. There are set limits for these.

Special Monthly Compensation (SMC)

A monthly payment made to bedridden veterans who need special attendant care.

Other than VA compensation benefits, there are other possibilities of obtaining compensation for your expenses, pain and suffering. Contact an attorney specialized in asbestos cases to explore your possibilities.

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