Joining the Navy? Part 2: Seaman Ship Out Guide-Asbestos Awareness

part2Congratulations! You made it through Navy Boot Camp. Are you prepared for an exciting life at sea? During your training you may have learned a bit about asbestos exposure and the potential health dangers it has on Navy veterans. A high percentage of asbestos exposure took place on navy vessels prior to the 1970s, leaving many veterans with asbestos related diseases such as mesothelioma, a cancer that may take 10 – 45 years before the first signs. Some of those vessels have been retired to the shipyards, while others are still in use. As a seaman, it’s important that you have asbestos awareness and that you know how to protect yourself and others from unnecessary asbestos exposure.

A history of Asbestos and its purpose in the Navy

According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring minerals used in certain products, such as building materials and vehicle brakes, to resist heat and corrosion. The Navy used asbestos containing materials (ACM) in the engine and boiler rooms and other areas below deck, for fire safety purposes, as well as in areas such as navigation rooms, sleeping quarters and mess halls. Navy personnel, who were aboard a Navy vessel before the 1970’s are at highest risk for asbestos exposure because ventilation, in areas containing ACM, was poor.

In a natural, solid form, asbestos is relatively harmless, but asbestos becomes particularly dangerous when it starts to deteriorate or is manually broken down. When asbestos containing material is broken down, the microscopic fibers are inhaled and can cause scarring in the lungs, eventually developing into lung related diseases, such as mesothelioma.

Is Asbestos present on ships today?

Chances are, the ship you will live on, may still have asbestos containing materials. According to the Naval Safety and Environmental Training Center, all ships whose keels were laid prior to 1980 must be treated as if they contain friable (“easily crumbled”) asbestos thermal systems insulation (TSI). These ships should be equipped with the proper cautionary signage, as well as a trained Emergency Asbestos Response Team (EART). The asbestos may not pose as a health hazard until it starts to break down or is manually manipulated or removed. Only trained workers should take responsibility for the proper handling of the dangerous substance.

Protect Your Health

The chances of you contracting a lung related disease, merely by living or walking on the ship, are slim. You should never enter an asbestos containing area without wearing proper protective gear. Never manipulate or alter ACMs before speaking with EART; as you must have proper training first. Refrain from smoking on a ship with ACM (the Navy may have strict guidelines concerning cigarette smoking anyway). Smokers are 90 times more likely to develop lung diseases if they have been exposed to asbestos.

What you will Learn in Asbestos Removal Training

If you become trained in asbestos removal you will learn the following information:

  • Health effects and hazards of exposure to asbestos (i.e. mesothelioma)
  • Smoking and working with ACM can increase your risk of cancer
  • Where ACM is located on your ship
  • Purpose, use, and limitations of personal protective equipment
  • Description of emergency and clean-up procedures
  • Purpose of posting warning signs and labels

Asbestos Awareness and Protecting Your Health

Any knowledge you can gain, while in the Navy, can be advantageous. Because you will live in Navy vessels, it’s important to know the vessel’s history and if there are any hazards, such as asbestos containing materials, aboard. Navy seamen, before you, were unaware of the dangers of living among ACM. If you are given the chance to receive proper training and honest information, will you pass up the opportunity?

About the Author
Andrew Miller is an avid blogger, environmental law student, future JAG Officer and co-founder of the tech startup Scan & Ban (; a free mobile app developed to empower the public to find out what toxins are in their food and pass legislature to ban those dangerous ingredients.

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