Asbestos and Auxiliary Ships
Ships that are not suited as active participant in a battle scenario are classified by the U.S. Navy as auxiliary ships. These ships came in all shapes and sizes and performed a number of functions. They transported other ships and Navy personnel in non-combat situations. They moved supplies. They were on-the-sea hubs for ship repairs.
This category is the catch-all of the working ships and can include:
- Crane ships
- Destroyer tenders
- Ammunition ships
- Provisions store ships
- Combat store ships
- Communications and radar relay ships
- Troop transport ships
- Hospital ships
- Cargo ships
- Research and survey vessels
- Oilers, repair and salvage vessels
- Mine layers
- Transport ships that carry everything from tanks to missiles
- And floating docks
Asbestos Products on Auxiliary Ships
Just as in all other U.S. Navy ships afloat from the early 20th century into the post-Vietnam era, the fleet of auxiliary ships was full of insulation, fireproofing and other things that contained asbestos. Asbestos, asbestos-laden parts and asbestos dust was a reality on every part of almost every U.S. Navy ship from the 1900s well into the 1970s. The asbestos in these ships makes veterans particularly vulnerable to asbestos diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Bulkheads, insulation, ceiling tiles, pipes, boilers and fire-resistant sheets were some of the most common asbestos containing parts on board ships. Crews on auxiliary ships were often called upon to perform maintenance and retrofitting work on other, larger ships while at sea. The sailors and marines that served aboard Navy auxiliary vessels also were exposed to the asbestos-laden parts of the ships that they repaired and maintained.
Boilermen, enginemen, firemen. machinist mates, ship-fitters, pipefitters, electrician's mates, Seabees (military construction) and other Navy personnel were exposed to dangerously high levels of asbestos throughout the course of their service. Although the U.S. government knew about the dangers of asbestos exposure as early as 1939, the Navy continued building ships with asbestos-containing materials as late as the 1970s.
The government issued asbestos safety standards in 1943 to protect those who built or repaired naval vessels and naval personnel, but failed to undertake measures to enforce them. Safety practices and procedures for handling asbestos on ships were routinely ignored.
The Navy did not start enforcing proper handling procedures and abatement of asbestos until decades later, jeopardizing the health of millions of naval veterans through exposure to the hundreds of asbestos laden materials that they would come into contact with while serving on a ship.
Every major shipyard in the United States was involved in the building of ships for the Navy during the World War II era. By 1944, nearly 2 million U.S. workers were employed in shipyards. While only 1 in 5 shipyard workers of the period were categorized as direct asbestos workers, like those who installed insulation and fitted bulkheads during construction or repairs, the majority of the workers at these shipyards were exposed to asbestos dust and asbestos materials through their work.
Carpenters, mechanics, painters, electricians, welders and other construction workers were all exposed in the shipyards. Exposure aboard auxiliary ships continued long after World War II and into the Korean and Vietnam wars. Sailors and workers were exposed to asbestos through maintenance and repairs well into the 1970s.
Veterans Eligible for Help
Because of the amount of asbestos on U.S. Navy ships during most of the 1900s, veterans are at risk for getting mesothelioma. Many of the same veterans are also eligible for financial assistance through the Veterans Administration.
The Mesothelioma Center's Veterans Assistance Network helps veterans understand the paperwork involved with filing claims and how to get their claims processed faster. Fill out this form to get free access to the Veterans Assistance Network.