Asbestos in the military

USS Arkansas BB-33

USS Arkansas BB-33Description:  History of the U.S. Navy battleship USS Arkansas (BB-33) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.

The USS Arkansas (BB-33) was ordered for the U.S. Navy on March 3, 1909.  Her keel was laid down by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation on January 25, 1910.  She was launched on January 14, 1911 and commissioned on September 17, 1912 with Captain Roy C. Smith in command.

President William Taft visited the USS Arkansas on October 14, 1912 as part of a fleet review.  The battleship transported the President to the Panama Canal Zone for inspection of the yet unfinished canal construction.  She returned President Taft to Key West, Florida on December 26.

USS Arkansas joined the Atlantic Fleet in 1913, first for maneuvers along the East Coast, then visiting several ports in the Mediterranean, including a stop at Naples to celebrate the birthday of King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy.

In the spring of 1914, the USS Arkansas headed to Veracruz to support a battalion securing Mexican waters.  When the ship landed on April 22, two of her sailors died in the fighting that secured the city.  She remained in Mexican waters until the end of September, when she returned to Hampton Roads, Virginia for a week of training exercises before heading to the New York Navy Yard for repairs and alterations.

The next few years involved a lot of fleet exercises, maneuvers, and more repair work for the USS Arkansas, including torpedo practice off Mobile Bay on March 12, 1916.  She was overhauled at the New York Navy Yard the following month.

When the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917, the USS Arkansas patrolled the York River in Virginia as part of Battleship Division 7 (BatDiv 7).  She patrolled the East Coast and trained gun crews for over a year before receiving orders to relieve the USS Delaware in Rosyth, Scotland in July of 1918.  While in Scotland, the battleship served as part of the British Grand Fleet at the 6th Battle Squadron.

After World War I ended, USS Arkansas detached from the British Grand Fleet and met with the USS George Washington at the Isle of Portland, England.  She served as part of President Woodrow Wilson’s escort of honor as he sailed to Brest, France.  From there, the battleship returned to New York City, and was then overhauled at the Norfolk Navy Yard.

Before the start of World War II, the USS Arkansas remained busy.  She took weather observations, served as a reference vessel for the flight of the Curtiss NC flying boats, transported Admiral William S. Benson and his wife from the Peace Conference in Paris, and performed in a number of training exercises and patrol duties.  The battleship was overhauled and repaired many times, and was involved in a number of ceremonial celebrations during peacetime.

When World War II began in Europe, USS Arkansas was at Hampton Roads. On January 11, 1940, she headed to Guantanamo Bay with USS Texas and USS New York for fleet exercises.  The battleship was overhauled at Norfolk Navy Yard before sailing to Panama and Venezuela for midshipman training.  The USS Arkansas provided accommodations for Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles and Mr. Averell Harriman for the Atlantic Charter conference in Newfoundland from August 8-14, 1941.

The USS Arkansas was anchored in Casco Bay, Maine when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941.  She served as an escort for cargo and troop transports as flagship of Task Force 38 (TF 38), crossing the Atlantic a number of times.  The battleship covered a convoy to Casablanca before returning to New York for overhaul.

Throughout World War II, USS Arkansas continued to serve alternately as a convoy escort and a training vessel.  She sailed for Bangor, Ireland on April 18, 1944 to train for a new role as shore bombardment ship.  She supported the Invasion of Normandy in June, position 4,000 yard off Omaha beach.

Over the next few months, the USS Arkansas would go into battle off the coast of Cherbourg, Algeria, Italy, and Sicily.  She participated in Operation Anvil, the invasion of the southern coast of France between Toulon and Cannes, on August 14, 1944.  The battleship returned to the United States for repairs and modifications in Boston before participating in more training exercises.

In January 1945, USS Arkansas sailed for Pearl Harbor then to Ulithi.  She prepared for the later assault on Iwo Jima, which began on February 16.  After clearing the waters there, she returned to Ulithi for refueling and provisions before the invasion of Okinawa in March.  The battleship fended off kamikazes, and delivered fire support for 46 days.

The USS Arkansas dry docked at Apra Harbor in Guam on May 14, 1945.  When the war ended, she brought 800 U.S. servicemen back home as part of Operation Magic Carpet.  She made several more trips to bring soldiers back from Pearl Harbor to the U.S. mainland.

USS Arkansas received four battle stars for her service during World War II.  In July 1946, she was fired upon by an atomic bomb as a part of nuclear testing in Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll.  The battleship survived the blast by the bomb Able, but was sunk by a second test with the bomb Baker on July 25.  The USS Arkansas was decommissioned on July 29, 1946 and removed from the Naval Vessel Register on August 15, 1946.

Like all other Navy ships of its time, the USS Arkansas was built with many components that contained the hazardous material asbestos.  Asbestos was known for its resistance to heat, fire, water, and corrosion, so it was used in virtually all areas of the ship.  Sailors who worked onboard and workers who helped repair and overhaul the USS Arkansas were exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos without the aid of protective clothing or respiratory gear.  This put them at risk for contracting life-threatening asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma, lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, and asbestosis. Mesothelioma is a dangerous form of cancer that attacks the mesothelium or protective lining that surrounds the lungs and other organs.

USS Arkansas workers should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with mesothelioma.  Anyone who worked on or around the USS Arkansas, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.

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