Asbestos in Ships and Shipyards

Most applications of asbestos in our warships was mandated by the Navy and required in order to protect the lives of the crew and machinery in the event of a shipboard fire. As far back as 1922, the Navy started requiring that all new submarines be insulated with asbestos. This is because research conducted in the early 1900’s revealed that of all available fire protection products, asbestos was not only most effective but most cost effective as well.

Asbestos was widely used in boiler rooms and engine rooms. The inclusion of asbestos in insulation boilers, pipes, valves, and hulls, meant that tons of asbestos began being used to insulate and fire protect every part of the ships. Asbestos packing materials were used to pack steam valves. Gaskets made out of asbestos were used in flanges and pipe connections.

Asbestos was used in welding, electrical conduits, turbine generators, motor generators, motor controllers, high and low pressure air compressors. Basically, any equipment that needed to be insulated was made so through the use of asbestos materials.

Shipyard Workers Exposed to Asbestos

Workers who worked in boiler rooms or engine rooms may have had high levels of asbestos exposure. Non-engine room workers were also exposed because most every pipe forward of the engine room bulkhead was insulated with asbestos.

Once asbestos dust goes airborne, no one is safe from the dangers of inhaling and/or ingesting its cancer causing fibers, regardless of what kind of work they performed onboard these ships. As such, it comes as no surprise that shipyard workers continue to be diagnosed with asbestos related illnesses such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

While anyone working in a shipyard (including office workers and clerks) had a potential to be exposed to asbestos, those workers who worked in shops that either dealt directly with asbestos, or routinely worked inside the ships, were particularly susceptible to exposure.

Some of those shops that were most as risk include:

  • Shipfitter Shop - Shop 11
  • Forge Shop - Shop 11F
  • Sheetmetal Shop - Shop 17
  • Welding Shop - Shop 26
  • Inside Machine Shop - Shop 31
  • Outside Machine Shop - Shop 38
  • Boiler Shop - Shop 41
  • Electrical Shop - Shop 51
  • Pipe Shop - Shop 56
  • Woodworking Shop - Shop 64
  • Electronics Shop - Shop 67
  • Paint Shop - Shop 71
  • Riggers & Laborers Shop - Shop 72
  • Temporary Services Shop - Shop 99