Asbestos on Destroyers

A destroyer is a maneuverable, fast warship designed to escort and defend larger Navy vessels from smaller enemy boats. First developed in the late 1800s in response to attacks from new torpedo ships, destroyers became versatile “workhorse” ships of the naval fleet in the 20th century.

Key Takeaways
  • Navy destroyers had extensive use of asbestos-containing materials in their construction, making sailors and shipyard workers aboard these vessels highly susceptible to asbestos exposure, which is directly linked to the development of mesothelioma.
  • Components such as boilers, gaskets, insulation, and fireproofing materials on destroyers contained asbestos. This widespread use meant that virtually all areas of the ship posed potential exposure risks to those on board.
  • Navy veterans who served on destroyers and developed mesothelioma are eligible for VA benefits and possible other forms of compensation.

In the 1940s, the Navy began using asbestos on destroyers to make them even more durable and resilient. The Navy used asbestos materials to construct destroyers, incorporating them into parts such as decks and bulkheads. The fibrous mineral’s heat-resistant and soundproofing properties also made it an ideal choice for insulating engine room equipment, boilers, and much more.

However, the use of asbestos on destroyers created a significant health hazard for sailors and shipyard workers. When disturbed, asbestos fibers can become airborne and easily ingested or inhaled, leading to serious asbestos-related diseases. Among the most deadly conditions is mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that develops when asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining of the lungs or other organs.

When Was Asbestos Used on Navy Destroyers?

Asbestos was widely used in materials and components on thousands of Navy ships and hundreds of destroyers constructed from the early 1940s until the mid-1970s. The U.S. Navy stopped using asbestos in its destroyers in the 1980s. No branches of the U.S. military currently use asbestos-containing products in construction projects because of the health risks associated with asbestos exposure. However, older vessels, structures, vehicles, equipment, and products may still contain the material.

Destroyers That Contained Asbestos

Navy destroyers built between the 1940s and mid-1970s are the ones that most likely contained asbestos. The destroyer classes built and commissioned between the 1940s and mid-1970s included the following:

  • Fletcher – 175 ships
  • Allen M. Sumner – 58 ships
  • Gearing – 98 ships
  • Mitscher – 4 ships
  • Forrest Sherman – 18 ships
  • Farragut – 10 ships
  • Charles F. Adams – 23 ships
  • Spruance – 31 ships
  • Kidd – 4 ships
  • Evarts – 65 ships
  • Buckley – 65 ships
  • Cannon – 58 ships
  • Edsall – 85 ships
  • Rudderow – 21 ships
  • John C. Butler – 83 ships
  • Dealey – 13 ships
  • Claud Jones – 4 ships
  • Norfolk – unknown
  • Leahy – 9 ships
  • Bainbridge – unknown
  • Belknap – 9 ships
  • Truxton – unknown
  • California – 2 ships

While the above list is long, it isn’t exhaustive. If you served on a destroyer, you may have been exposed to asbestos even if your destroyer class or ship isn’t on this list.

Location of Asbestos on Navy Destroyers

While asbestos was used liberally in the below-deck areas of U.S. Navy destroyers, it could be found almost anywhere, from boiler rooms to mess halls. In fact, the U.S. military used more than 300 products containing asbestos throughout Navy ships from the 1940s to the 1970s, including the following:

  • Adhesives
  • Boilers
  • Insulation
  • Electrical systems
  • Caulk
  • Cables
  • Gaskets
  • Deck coverings
  • Flooring material
  • Grinders
  • Pumps
  • Heat shields
  • Pipe coverings
  • Paint
  • Engines
  • Pumps
  • Packing
  • Meters
  • Rope
  • Valves
  • Tiles
  • Turbines
  • Tubes
  • Gloves worn by gunners

Unfortunately, many military assignments required servicemembers to work closely with or around asbestos-containing parts and products.

Many prior cases and claims have confirmed evidence of asbestos use aboard Navy vessels. One Navy veteran testified to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals that his right lung collapse was directly related to his service as a gunner’s mate aboard the USS Chevalier during the Korean War. The veteran reported that he wore asbestos gloves while loading and shooting ammunition during combat. He also reported having asbestos-insulated pipes in his living space, sleeping quarters, and throughout the ship, and asbestos particles often shook loose as the ship’s guns were fired.

Who’s at Risk?

U.S. Navy veterans who worked on or near destroyers built before the 1980s are likely at risk of asbestos exposure. Occupations with the highest risk of exposure include the following:

  • Machinists
  • Boiler technicians and tenders
  • Electricians
  • Engine room workers
  • Firemen
  • Shipbuilders
  • Shipfitters
  • Pipefitters
  • Welders
  • Hull maintenance technicians
  • Water tenders
  • Other shipyard workers

U.S. Navy personnel in other occupations may have also been exposed to asbestos. Family members could have also suffered secondary exposure when a servicemember brought home materials or clothing covered with asbestos fibers. Even though the exposure happened decades ago, there remains a risk of illness due to mesothelioma’s long latency period—it typically takes 20 to 60 years for symptoms to surface.

The symptoms of mesothelioma can vary depending on where in the body the cancer forms. However, some common mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent cough
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen
  • Fluid buildup in the chest
  • Night sweats

Once the cancer begins to spread, more severe symptoms may occur. If you have concerns about asbestos exposure or possible mesothelioma, you should make an appointment with a specialist for a physical exam and diagnostic testing.

Do Destroyers Today Still Contain Asbestos?

Every U.S. Navy ship built until the late 1970s likely contained asbestos. The Navy removed asbestos from construction specifications for ships shortly after that period. The Navy has no active destroyers built before 1980. Thus, it’s unlikely that current sailors are still exposed to asbestos on board.

However, some destroyers containing asbestos remained in commission until the 1990s. This occurred because some ships were reclassified as cruisers. One example is the USS Truxtun, launched as a destroyer leader but later reclassified as a cruiser before decommissioning in 1995.

How much asbestos would have remained on a ship in the 1990s is unknown. However, since mesothelioma can take 20-60 years to develop after exposure, veterans exposed on older ships may still develop it or other asbestos-related diseases.

Exposed to Asbestos in the Military?

Compensation for Veterans Exposed to Asbestos

U.S. Navy veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma may be able to pursue compensation to help pay for things like medical care, lost wages, and travel costs. Some options also allow you to collect other damages, such as pain and suffering. If you were diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, your options for compensation may include:

  • VA benefits – If you have developed mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease from exposure during your service, you are entitled to VA disability benefits. VA disability benefits provide monthly, tax-free compensation and health care based on the degree of your disability, known as a disability rating. Veterans with Mesothelioma typically receive a 100 percent rating.
  • Mesothelioma lawsuits – While you cannot sue the military for your asbestos exposure, you may be able to hold asbestos companies accountable for putting products on the market they knew had serious health risks. A mesothelioma lawsuit can provide additional compensation to cover your damages from the disease. A knowledgeable mesothelioma lawyer can identify the responsible companies, file your lawsuit, litigate your case, and fight for the best possible result, whether through a settlement or verdict.
  • Asbestos trust funds – Many companies that used or produced asbestos products filed for bankruptcy amid mounting liability for asbestos exposure. The courts required them to establish trust funds aside to compensate victims. Today, these funds hold an estimated $30 billion. If you have developed an asbestos-related disease, you may be eligible to file a claim with one or more of these funds.

An experienced attorney can help you navigate your claim and seek compensation on your or your loved one’s behalf.

How Veterans Guide Can Help

If you are a veteran who has developed an asbestos-related disease from exposure to the toxic material on Navy destroyers, you have legal options. Veterans Guide is committed to helping those harmed by contact with asbestos while serving their country.

Contact Veterans Guide if you’ve been diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition. An experienced, compassionate attorney can help you seek the compensation you deserve.

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