In the recent history of the United States, perhaps no occupation played a more pivotal role in defending our nation than shipbuilders. Whether directly as a part of the U.S. Navy, or through working on a shipyard in another capacity for a private company, many people throughout the past century worked tirelessly to manufacture ships and keep our country safe.

Sadly, shipbuilders are one of the occupations most at risk from asbestos exposure, and resultant diseases like mesothelioma. These workers – and their families – were put at risk due to the prominent use of asbestos in shipbuilding and manufacturing processes. 

Lawsuits And Compensation For Shipbuilders

Asbestos trusts have been established to offer financial compensation to individuals and their families affected by asbestos exposure. This compensation aims to alleviate the burden of medical expenses, bills, and other living costs. The amount of compensation provided depends on various factors, including the timing and severity of the diagnosis

To access this compensation, asbestos victims must file a claim with the relevant asbestos trust. These trusts play a crucial role in safeguarding the financial well-being of victims and their families, offering support to mitigate the financial hardships caused by mesothelioma and other asbestos-related health conditions.

Why Was Asbestos Used In Shipyards?

There were three main reasons why asbestos was used in manufacturing processes, such as those in shipbuilding.

Fire Resistance and Insulation Properties

Asbestos was widely used in shipyards due to its exceptional fire resistance and insulation properties. Ships are susceptible to fire hazards, and asbestos was considered a reliable material for preventing the spread of flames. Additionally, asbestos provided effective insulation, helping to regulate temperature and control heat transfer within the vessels.

Durability and Strength

Another reason asbestos found its way into shipyards was its durability and strength. Asbestos fibers could be woven into various materials, making them resistant to wear and tear, as well as corrosion. This made asbestos-containing materials suitable for applications such as insulation, gaskets, pipe coverings, and brake linings, where durability and longevity were essential.


Asbestos was also favored in shipyards as it was relatively cheap.. As a naturally occurring mineral, asbestos was widely available and fairly inexpensive. Its affordability made it an attractive choice for shipbuilders who sought to maintain production efficiency and keep costs under control.

However, while asbestos offered these advantages in shipbuilding, its usage came with severe health risks. 

The harmful health effects of asbestos exposure, including the development of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, were not widely understood or acknowledged at the time. As we now know, inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to serious and often fatal health consequences, such as mesothelioma.

Did You, Or A Family Member, Work As A Shipbuilder?

Shipbuilders were acutely at risk from asbestos exposure, and you may be eligible for compensation. We can help you understand what you need to do to start the process..

Find Out More

How Shipbuilders Were Exposed to Asbestos

For those working on the construction of ships, there were a number of factors that could lead to asbestos exposure.

In their day-to-day work, many workers faced direct exposure to asbestos during the construction, repair, and maintenance of ships. Asbestos-containing materials were prevalent in various parts of the vessels, including insulation, pipes, boiler rooms, engine rooms, and bulkheads. Shipbuilders often handled, cut, installed, or removed these materials, releasing asbestos fibers into the air. This continuous contact put them at high risk of inhaling or ingesting toxic asbestos particles.

In addition, safety protocols in the first half of the twentieth century are nothing like the measures we see today. Worker protection was almost non-existent. Basic safety measures, such as protective equipment or ventilation systems to control asbestos exposure, were unheard of. The dusty and confined spaces within shipyards allowed asbestos fibers to become airborne. This created a hazardous breathing environment for shipbuilders.  

The risk of asbestos exposure also extended to family members. Shipyard workers may have carried the asbestos fibers home on their work clothes, hair, and skin. This unintentional transfer of asbestos fibers to their families – particularly during laundry or close physical contact – resulted in secondary exposure. 

Furthermore, shipyard activities like cutting, drilling, or grinding asbestos-containing materials could release asbestos fibers into the air, exposing nearby shipbuilders who may not have directly handled asbestos.

bestos is a generic term used to describe naturally occurring mineral silicates. In reality, there are two main series of asbestos known as serpentine and amphibole. 

Chrysotile is a serpentine also known as ‘white asbestos’. Chrysotile is the most predominantly used asbestos variety in the U.S., occurring largely in the Appalachian Mountains. In many asbestos air quality studies, chrysotile is the common fiber detected. Miners exposed to chrysotile showed a pattern of lung cancer, pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, gastrointestinal tract cancers, and cancer of the larynx.

The amphibole variety of asbestos includes actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, crocidolite and tremolite. There are still open controversies as to whether specific types of asbestos cause different diseases and the potency of each type. As discussed by the NCBI, chrysotile is claimed to be less damaging as it does not stay present in the lungs as long as amphibole varieties. 

The main difference between chrysotile and amphibole effects on health is their structure. Amphibole varieties are harder and can survive in the human body longer.

Shipbuilding Products Containing Asbestos

Some of the most common usage of asbestos within the shipbuilding industry was in the following products:

  • Fireproof paint
  • Mechanical parts such as gaskets, clutch facings and brakes
  • Hatch, wall, floor and ceiling insulation
  • Pipe wraps and insulation
  • Electrical wiring
  • Boilers
  • Adhesives

Anyone employed in a shipyard between the 1930s and 1980s, who was working on manufacturing these products, is likely to have suffered some degree of exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos In The Navy

The U.S. Navy’s extensive use of asbestos in shipbuilding has left a lasting impact on the health of millions of American workers and veterans. 

As early as 1922, the Navy mandated the use of asbestos in the construction of submarines, setting the stage for widespread asbestos utilization. The Navy, relying on asbestos for its resistance to saltwater corrosion and fire prevention, used more asbestos products than any other military branch.

The American government recognized the importance of asbestos and classified it as a critical material in 1939, leading to its stockpiling. Shipyards across the United States received a significant supply of asbestos, as worldwide demand surpassed availability. Consequently, shipbuilders faced substantial exposure risks as they worked with asbestos-laden materials.

During World War II, approximately 4,500,000 men and women were employed in shipyards, where asbestos exposure risk was particularly high. 

The legacy of asbestos in shipbuilding continued well beyond the war. The number of shipyard workers declined after World War II, but asbestos exposure risks remained a concern until the mid-1970s. 

The impact of asbestos in shipbuilding underscores the magnitude of the health hazards faced by workers and veterans in this industry.

Research Studies Into Effects of Asbestos On Shipbuilders

Over recent decades, several research studies have analyzed the impact of asbestos on shipbuilders.

Find Out if you Qualify

Fill out our quick form and see if you qualify for trust fund compensation

Check Now

Written by Richard Stewart

Writer, Content Coordinator and Outreach Director

Richard Stewart is a writer, content coordinator and outreach director with over 12 years of experience covering asbestos exposure, mesothelioma, and treatment options. He is passionate about spreading awareness for asbestos and mesothelioma and helping victims find the information and resources they need online.

Learn More