Asbestos Use in the Navy During World War II

Asbestos – known as the “miracle mineral” because of its heat resistant properties and insulating abilities – was a popular building material throughout much of the 20th century. Asbestos use was particularly popular in shipyards and could be found in materials such as gaskets, valves, cements, adhesives, pumps, insulation, and lagging (coverings for floors and pipes). It was also used in engine and boiler rooms, sleeping quarters, and mess halls.

With the events of WWII, thousands of military vessels were needed, which resulted in asbestos exposure to tens of thousands of naval personnel. Navy veterans that encountered asbestos include those who:

  • Renovated or removed asbestos containing structures before or after 1970
  • Served on ships whose keels were laid before 1983
  • Worked in shipyards between the 1930s and 1990s
  • Worked below deck before the 1990s (asbestos was used below deck with poor ventilation)
  • Removed asbestos lagging in engine rooms and rewrapped the pipes with asbestos paste

Since the demand for naval vessels increased during WWII, the amount of workers needed to maintain, repair, and man the ships also grew.  From 1941 to 1943, the number of workers increased from 18,272 to 50,128 just in the Boston Navy Yard alone. Asbestos was used because it was inexpensive, effective, and abundant. When ships had to be renovated, old asbestos containing materials were removed and replaced with new asbestos materials. Between removing and replacing boilers, removing insulation, and renovating entire ships, workers exposed themselves to asbestos every day.

Shipyard workers were not the only members of the Navy who were exposed to asbestos. The sailors who lived and worked on the ships were also exposed either through directly working with or being around it. Asbestos is now heavily regulated in the United States, but for WWII veterans who served in the Navy, the damage is already done. The latency period between time of initial asbestos exposure and disease diagnosis can be decades, so many of our WWII navy veterans are just now receiving a mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer diagnosis.

If you have mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer and are a veteran of the Navy you may be entitled to a claim. At Goldberg, Persky and White, P.C. we know it can be hard for someone to be diagnosed with these illnesses so we have made it easy to speak to one of our attorneys. All you have to do is fill out our contact form or call us at 412-471-3980.


David Hannigan, “The Boston Navy Yard during World War II” National Park Service. [Link]

Kara Franke & Dennis Paustenbach, “Government and Navy knowledge regarding health hazards of asbestos: A state of the science evaluation (1900 to 1970)” Taylor and Francis Online (September 29, 2011). [Link]

“Ship Building 1933-45 – Roosevelt, Franklin D.” Global Security. [Link]

War Related Illness & Injury Study Center “Exposure to Asbestos A Resource for Veterans, Service Members, and Their Families” Veterans Affairs (August 2013). [Link]


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