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Asbestos Exposure in Shipyards


Certain occupations were more likely to use asbestos than others. Shipyards are among the primary jobsites associated with high levels of asbestos exposure among workers. During the construction and repair of American warships and other large navy vessels, shipyard workers and naval personnel were often exposed to asbestos-covered boilers, wall insulation, turbines, pipe covering, gaskets, pumps, cement, and other asbestos products.

We have collected brief histories and information on some of the major shipyards across the Unites States of America, for your convenience. We now know that exposure to asbestos occurred among workers at many of these facilities. Those who worked at these shipyards are at risk to develop asbestos-related diseases, including cancer and other severe respiratory conditions.













New Hampshire

New Jersey

New York




Rhode Island

South Carolina




Washington, D.C.

Asbestos in Shipyards

More Shipyard Information

Shipyards are cornerstones of the United States military maritime operation. These incredibly important jobsites build, repair, and store a variety of ships for the United States Navy.

The duty of the personnel assigned to shipyards is to ensure that vessels—from battleships and aircraft carriers to submarines and destroyers—remain in proper, working order and that these vessels are battle-ready.

Sadly, though, veterans of naval shipyards were unable to escape exposure to asbestos. Many of these proud veterans developed mesothelioma, lung cancer, or other asbestos-related diseases from their time serving our country.

Currently, active U.S. Navy personnel working at U.S. Naval shipyards still have an incredibly high risk of asbestos exposure. However, the difference between shipyard veterans and those on active duty is that there is more known about the risks and dangers of asbestos exposure. What does not change is that a mesothelioma diagnosis stemming from shipyard asbestos exposure remains devastating.

Please view our extensive shipyard listing above for information about asbestos exposure at a specific U.S. shipyard.

Navy Veterans and Asbestos Exposure

Due to the availability, durability and variety of practical applications, the United States Navy used asbestos products to build ships. Because of the expansive use in shipbuilding – from parts in mechanical systems, insulation, lagging and pipe sealants – many Navy personnel were unwittingly exposed to asbestos particles.

Usually, exposure occurred directly during the shipbuilding process, repairs and routine maintenance. Further, to have easy and direct access to necessary ship parts, many shipyards contained massive storage areas. From installing to transporting asbestos products, Navy personnel accidentally loosened particles and fibers, causing them to become airborne.

Every person working in and around the Navy shipyards was at an extremely high risk of exposure, and as such, many of these brave Navy veterans eventually developed asbestos-related cancer and mesothelioma.

Active Navy Personnel and Asbestos Exposure

Many ships built between World War I and the Vietnam War are still in active use.

Current Navy personnel assigned to the renovation, repair and updating of vessels in the shipyards are at the same level of risk for asbestos exposure as the brave men and women who originally built the ships.

Lingering around ships, shipyards and storage areas are asbestos-laden parts, which remain hazardous even as these products are no longer manufactured or available. In light of this, Navy shipyard personnel are not trained to identify asbestos. Further still, without proper identification of potentially hazardous materials, Navy personnel may unintentionally jostle the asbestos causing the particles to break off and become airborne.

Additionally, many personnel repairing ships must travel deep into the mechanical areas of the vessel where ventilation and circulation are typically poor. This is a very dangerous place especially if the personnel are not equipped to identify asbestos and protected with adequate safety equipment.

Simply, the United States Navy builds new ships when needed, but those older, battle-scarred vessels that are in good working condition are still at sea and continue to require regular maintenance.

Until these shipyards are entirely eradicated of any asbestos, the risk of unintentional exposure remains high for Navy personnel.

Beyond the Shipyards

Our brave men and women serving in the Navy are still at a risk of asbestos exposure, beyond the shipyards. Most Navy ships underway contain asbestos from the heyday of ship building in the earlier part of the twentieth century.

According to the United States Navy, there are projects underway to test for and remove lingering asbestos on active ships.

Though all necessary health and safety precautions are in place to remove any asbestos and keep Navy personnel safe, the risk for accidental asbestos exposure remains significant. Moreover, repairs to the ship happen whether the ship is in the yard or at sea. The same risks that Navy shipyard personnel face on a daily basis apply to on-board personnel as well.

The Navy typically employs a professional, certified “civilian” asbestos removal service, but with some ships that are at sea like the USS Enterprise, the job falls to Navy personnel on board.

Especially with a ship at sea, the concern is how to safely remove the asbestos and protect the on-board personnel. The Navy has trained a smaller number of personnel to detect and remove asbestos on ships at sea, when civilian services are unavailable.

The risk for Navy personnel also extends beyond shipyards and active ships to the aging Naval Bases. Many old Navy buildings are currently undergoing renovation and repairs which can result in the generation of airborne asbestos.

While the United States Navy seems to be taking all of the necessary precautions to protect the men and women serving our country, the risks still remain high. Even a single occurrence of asbestos exposure can increase the risk for developing health complications, including mesothelioma.


The United States Navy. Navy News Service – Eye on the Fleet. Accessed on March 7, 2011. (

The United States Navy. Journalist 1st Class (SW) Hendrick L. Dickson, USS Enterprise Public Affairs. Big E’s Emergency Asbestos Rip-Out Team Protecting the Air. Accessed on March 7, 2011. (

The National Institute of Health. The United States National Library of Medicine. Asbestos. Updated September 26, 2003. Accessed on March 7, 2011. (

United States Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute of Health. Educational Needs of Physicians and Public Regarding Asbestos Exposure. May 22, 1978. Accessed on March 7, 2011. (

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