11 Min Read
Last Updated: 10/05/2023
Fact Checked

Asbestos in Navy Cruisers

In the past, before people knew about the health risks of asbestos exposure, asbestos was used to build and repair navy cruisers. This happened between the 1930s and 1970s.

USS Helena
USS Helena (CA 75) fires main battery guns at Chongjin, North Korea in October 1950.

Asbestos was used for many different things on Navy cruisers. Examples include ceiling tiles, insulation around pipes, switches and electrical components. It was even used in places where fuel was stored and in boiler rooms and engine rooms to protect them from fire or extreme heat. Asbestos is very versatile and affordable which made it a popular choice despite its dangerous side effects.

Asbestos was used on many Navy cruisers for a long time. Over time, the asbestos materials can wear down and become powdery. When this happens, tiny pieces of asbestos are released into the air. If someone breathes in these pieces, they can get stuck in their lungs. This could lead to diseases like mesothelioma cancer or other illnesses.

Confirmed Asbestos Use on Navy Cruisers

Old records show that asbestos-containing materials were used a lot on U.S. Navy cruisers. These records include repair notes, orders for supplies, letters and other memos.

Back in the 1940s, asbestos was a common material used on many navy cruisers. This included USS Baltimore (CA 68), USS Boston (CA 69), USS Canberra (CA 70), and more.

Asbestos could be found as cloth insulation for valves and pipe flange cuffs, molded insulation and lagging. Paper, gaskets and packing rings, sheet material for condenser circulation pumps also contained it. Gasketing for elevator pit drainage pumps and piping on main engines had asbestos. Navy cruisers used boilers that contained asbestos.

USS Birmingham
Nov. 14, 1910, Eugene B. Ely takes off from the USS Birmingham (CL 2) as the first pilot to fly off a ship.

The USS New Orleans (CA 32) was a Navy cruiser from the 1930s and 1940s. Documents show that it had several items on board which contained asbestos. These included valves by Jenkins Brothers, Manning, Maxwell & Moore, and Milwaukee Valves. Westinghouse Electric turbines, Worthington gasoline meters and Scanlon Morris autoclaves had asbestos. The mineral was also used to fix all of these parts as well as gaskets and boilers.

USS Norfolk (CLK 1) had a lot of asbestos on board. It was used in things like insulation, gaskets, and tape. It could be found all over the ship – from the turbines to the pumps to even the ventilation ducts.

Who Was at Risk?

Navy veterans who constructed, repaired, or removed asbestos were at the greatest risk. This includes painting, welding, plumbing, insulating and electrical work in shipyards.

A study published in 2019 showed that mesothelioma deaths were higher among Navy personnel who served between 1945 and 1962. This was especially true for people who had jobs on ships, which put them at a greater risk of exposure to asbestos. The results of the study were printed in the International Journal of Radiation Biology.

USS Saint Paul
USS Saint Paul (CA 73) off Wonsan, North Korea with her guns ready for bombardment.

Lots of these workers had to cut through pipes or other things that contained asbestos, which released tiny fibers into the air. They also needed to replace old products made with asbestos that were worn out or broken, which put them at risk of being exposed.

Ship crew members are especially at risk for asbestos exposure. On average, a cruiser has over 350 people on board and bigger ships can have even more! Asbestos was used as insulation and fire-retardant material all around the ship, so crew members were exposed to it every day. Also, certain rooms onboard had bad ventilation which caused asbestos fibers to build up in the air below deck – this could be dangerous too.

Maintenance workers and laborers who worked on Navy ships often had to use materials that contained asbestos. One of these workers, Dennis Woodruff, got sick with mesothelioma after taking apart World War II ships at the Port of Tacoma. In August 2021 he was given a big award of $11.2 million by a jury in Washington for his illness.

Family members of Navy veterans, especially wives, could be in danger of getting sick from asbestos too. This is called secondary exposure and it can be just as dangerous as direct contact with the material. Navy veterans who worked around asbestos may have brought home fibers on their hair, skin or clothes. This put their family at risk for illness.

Navy Cruisers Service

Unlike other U.S. Navy war vessels that look similar, early cruisers were different from each other in size and design. Some of the smallest ones were protected cruisers. The largest ones, which were almost as big as battleships, were armored cruisers.

Navy cruisers served in the following wars:

  • World War I (1914 – 1918)
  • World War II (1941 – 1945)
  • The Korean War (1950 – 1953)
  • The Vietnam War (1955 – 1975)
  • The Cold War (1945 – 1991)

In the early 1900s, cruisers were designed in a similar way. They were bigger than destroyers but smaller than battleships.

Throughout the following years, the Navy developed several modified Navy cruiser designations, including:

  • Armored Cruiser (CA)
  • Heavy Cruiser (CA)
  • Guided Missile Heavy Cruiser (CAG)
  • Large Cruiser (CB)
  • Large Command Ship (CBC)
  • Command Cruiser (CC)
  • Guided Missile Cruiser (CG)
  • Guided Missile Cruiser with a Helicopter (CGH)
  • Guided Missile Cruiser, Nuclear Powered (CGN)
  • Light Cruiser (CL)
  • Anti-Aircraft Light Cruiser (CLAA)
  • Command Light Cruiser (CLC)
  • Guided Missile Light Cruiser – Light cruiser converted to carry missiles (CLG)
  • Guided Missile Light Cruiser, Nuclear Powered (CLGN)
  • Cruiser-Hunter Killer Ship (CLK)

Find a Navy Ship

Where was asbestos in your Navy ship?

Years Active:
Hull Number:
Ship Type:
Ship Builder:

Asbestos Location:

Exposed to asbestos on the ?
We can provide you with free VA claims assistance.

During World War I, armored and light cruisers were sent out to sea. They helped keep merchant ships, troop carriers and cargo boats safe while they traveled across the Atlantic Ocean.

Did You Know?
During the Second World War, battleships were no longer the biggest and strongest ships in the U.S. Navy. It’s because they couldn’t protect themselves from air attacks. As a result, cruisers became the most important type of warship during and after this time. Although their role was affected by aircraft strikes as well.

To protect against air warfare, especially during the Cold War, new types of cruisers were built. These included guided missile cruisers and other different designs.

Currently, the U.S., Russia and Peru are the only nations worldwide with active Navy cruisers.

U.S Veteran Vietnam
Free Webinar for Veterans With Mesothelioma
Don’t miss out on the benefits you deserve. Find out what VA benefits are available for veterans like you.
Get a Recording

History of U.S. Navy Cruisers

A U.S. Navy cruiser is a type of warship, but before its classification, the term cruiser had a few different meanings. From as early as the 16th century, cruising was a term referring to specific types of missions, including raiding, independent scouting, and commerce protection, performed by Navy frigates, which were considered cruising warships.

By the middle of the 19th century, the term was given to the Navy ship classification that we know today as Navy cruisers, but their designs often fluctuated and were relatively inconsistent. As of the early 20th century, their designs became more consistent and all modified classifications retained a similar design, which also better prepared the ships for their role in upcoming battles.

World War I

The United States entered World War I in April 1914, deploying about 30 Navy cruisers to complete mostly escort and patrol missions across the Atlantic.

Occasionally, instead of convoy missions, some ships planted enemy mines. USS Baltimore (C-3) was responsible for assisting in laying a deep minefield off the north coast of Ireland in the North Channel, where approximately 900 mines were laid. She also planted mines along the North Sea Mine Barrage between the Orkneys and Norway.

During the war, the cruisers suffered little loss. USS California / San Diego was the only major U.S. warship lost to enemy action during World War I.

Interwar Years (1918-1939)

After the First World War, the rising of Japanese militarism and an international arms race in progress, international leaders sought to prevent another war by participating in naval disarmament. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 placed a formal limit on U.S. Navy cruisers that required them to weigh less than 10,000 tons and to carry guns less than 8 inches in caliber. The new limits significantly impacted the construction and modification of navy cruisers until the beginning of the Second World War.

About 33 cruisers were commissioned during this time as a part of the Roosevelt Administration’s WPA “make-work” projects.

World War II

In response to the Second World War, all Washington Naval Treaty restrictions were no longer in force. Approximately 100 cruisers were deployed before and during the Second World War. These cruisers fulfilled multiple roles including convoy escort and protection, surface task forces, defensive screening support to Allied task forces and convoys and gunfire support.

During the war, these ships responded to the increase in enemy aircraft, which changed the overall nature of naval combat. Even the fastest Navy cruisers were unable to escape an aerial attack, which prompted a change in naval operations beginning in the mid-20th century. Independent operations by a single ship or small task group were no longer successful, and the Navy began to focus more on the completion of missions based on large fleets that were better able to counter air warfare.

Korean War

After the Second World War, the anti-aircraft capabilities of cruisers were no longer satisfactory and proved to be detrimental to the Navy’s success, unlike the emerging aircraft carriers. Many cruisers were modernized with the removal of their complex and unreliable guns and replaced with as many 40mm and 20mm guns as possible without overcrowding their hulls.

USS Juneau
USS Juneau (CL 119) at sea, circa 1950-51.

With updated machinery, cruisers were ready to make an impact in the Korean War and USS Juneau (CL-119) delivered the first naval gunfire support of the Korean War on June 29, 1950.

Although, the only pure naval action in which an American warship was involved in during the Korean War took place on July 2, 1950, and was fought on the east coast when four North Korean torpedo boats attacked USS Juneau (CL-119) and two ships of the Royal Navy. Three of the torpedo boats were destroyed, while none of the Allied ships were hit.

Vietnam War

Despite the cruiser’s declining recognition compared to aircraft carriers, Navy cruisers were involved in more naval action during the Vietnam War than they were in the Korean War, often providing gunfire support and conducting naval gunfire against North Vietnamese targets. Cruisers also played other vital roles in the war.

Notably, the heavy cruiser USS Canberra (CAG-2) engaged and silenced numerous shore batteries while they shelled coastal targets around Vinh, North Vietnam. Off Vietnam, USS Canberra became the first U.S. Navy vessel to relay operational messages via communication satellite, using the Syncom III to reach the Naval Communications Station in Honolulu, 4,000 miles away, in 1965.

Cold War and Modern-era Carriers

During the Cold War, President Kennedy made a nationally televised report that he was imposing a quarantine on Cuba. Cruisers USS Newport News (CA-148) and USS Canberra (CAG-2), along with other vessels imposed a quarantine of Cuba to block the entry of Soviet offensive weapons currently being manufactured on the island.

Shortly after, in 1964, USS Long Beach (CGN-9), among other vessels, became a part of the world’s first nuclear-powered task group. At the end of July, Task Force 1 began Operation Sea Orbit, a two-month unrefueled cruise around the world. It was the first all-nuclear battle formation in the history of naval operations.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the U.S. Navy built the revolutionized Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruisers, which were the first cruisers equipped with new Aegis combat systems, allowing the ships to track and engage multiple aircraft targets more effectively than ever before. They are also the last class of active U.S. Navy cruisers.

The Ticonderoga-class cruisers that are currently active will soon undergo a modernization to improve their weapons, sensor sets, and ability to more accurately pinpoint enemies from wave-top to zenith, as well as other modifications to improve overall functionality. This modernization is expected to be cost-effective, as it will extend the ships’ projected service through 2030.

Connect with Our Community

The patient advocates of The Mesothelioma Center

Get in Touch

Have a question? Contact one of our Patient Advocates and get the answers you need.

Elder people sitting in a support group meeting

Join Our Support Group

Connect, share stories and learn from the experiences of others coping with mesothelioma in one of our support groups.

Patient Advocates walking for miles 4 mesothelioma

Giving Back

We help support charities, hospitals and awareness groups working to help people impacted by asbestos and cancer.