Shipyard Asbestos Exposure in the Navy: Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Today, thousands of former veterans in the navy have mesothelioma, a diagnosis that is fatal. Other casualties of navy employment include shipyard workers and other navy personnel. Why? This answer is because the navy took advantage of a cheap resource for its valuable properties for use on its ships. The natural properties of asbestos allow it to withstand high temperatures and corrosion making it an ideal material for insulating the vessels’ heat-producing components in warships. During a great part of the 20th Century including World War II and the early Cold War years, large amounts of asbestos were brought into shipyards and onto new ships. They even brought asbestos out of refurbished and decommissioned ships. Thousands upon thousands of shipyard workers and navy personnel inhaled the fine and deadly asbestos fibers. Fatality statistics demonstrate that working in an American asbestos shipyard during World War II was ultimately almost as deadly as fighting in the war.

According to records, during World War II, 16.1 million Americans were called to arms. Statistics show that for every thousand shipyard employees approximately 14 died of asbestos-related cancer and an unknown number succumb to asbestosis or its complications. Navy mesothelioma attorneys are well aware of documented proof that the civilian asbestos industry covered up the dangers of asbestos and misled its workers and the public at large. Asbestos on navy ships was covered-up by the industry who could not keep the truth from federal health officials. Navy physicians and other government health experts were aware that asbestos posed a danger early on.

Many veterans of the navy with mesothelioma will find it hard to believe there was actually a medical bulletin published in 1922 that listed working with asbestos as a hazardous occupation and recommended that respirators be used in the workplace. In the 1930s there were handbooks for ship launch for navy medical corpsmen that discussed the hazards asbestos workers faced. In 1941 the Navy’s chief officer for preventive medicine wrote about workers with asbestos exposure in shipyards. He actually said, “I am certain that we are not protecting the men as we should.”

Clearly, the Navy was aware of the issues with asbestos and at the crescendo of shipbuilding efforts in 1943, it distributed a document in which it specified, “Minimum Requirements for Safety and Industrial Health in Contract Shipyards.” It actually set guidelines for working with asbestos in all shipyards that constructed or fixed navy ships. Rules required a segregation of dust-producing jobs and special ventilation areas. It also required workers handling asbestos wear respirators and receive periodic medical examinations.

Mesothelioma law firms and courts of law are aware that shipyards were expected to enforce those standards. Now, decades after shipbuilders and navy veterans served their country, many are being stricken with asbestos-related illness or mesothelioma cancer.