Asbestos in the military

USS Bairoko (CVE-115)

Description:  History of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Bairoko (CVE-115) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.

The USS Bairoko (CVE-115) was ordered for the U.S. Navy during World War II, although she was originally meant to be the USS Portage Bay. Her keel was laid down at Todd-Pacific Shipyards in Tacoma, Washington.  She was launched on January 25, 1945 and commissioned on July 16, 1945 under the command of Captain H.B. Temple.

Too late to join the fighting in World War II, USS Bairoko was involved in a variety of peacetime activities.  She cruised to the Far East from October 18, 1946 to January 25, 1947 and again from February 18 to May 30, 1947.  She participated in the atomic bomb testing at Eniwetok Atoll.

USS Bairoko was decommissioned on April 14, 1950, but recommissioned shortly after on September 12, 1950 when the Korean War began.  The aircraft carrier made three cruises to support United Nations forces in Korea: November 14, 1950 to August 15, 1951; December 1, 1951 to June 9, 1952; and February to August 1953.

The USS Bairoko engaged in a number of air strikes against the North Korean and Chinese Volunteer armies.  Her antisubmarine planes patrolled the Korean waters and looked for signs that the Soviet Union was going to join forces with the North Koreans.

On May 9, 1951, there was an explosion on board the USS Bairoko. Five men were killed and 13 others were injured by the explosion and flash fire.  The ship did not sustain much damage, and she was able to remain in position.

The USS Bairoko sailed back to the West Coast in August 1953.  She headed to the Bikini Atoll for hydrogen bomb testing in January 1954.  Fallout from the Castle Bravo test on March 1, 1954 resulted in 16 of her crew members receiving beta radiation burns. At 1,200 times more powerful than the bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bomb was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the United States, and unfortunately caused the most significant accidental radiological contamination as well.

USS Bairoko returned to San Diego for training exercises from May to June 1954.  She was decommissioned on February 18, 1955. The ship was reclassified as an aircraft transport, AKV-15, in May 1959, but she did not perform any service in that role.  She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on April 1, 1960 and sold for scrap in August 1960.  The aircraft carrier (CVE-115) received three battle stars for her service in the Korean War.

Like virtually all other World War II era ships, the USS Bairoko was built using asbestos-containing materials.  The hazardous material asbestos was known for its resistance to fire, heat, water, and corrosion.  As a cheap insulator, it was used in nearly every area of the ship, including fire doors, engine rooms, turbines, incinerators, boilers, valves, hot water pipes, steam pipes, caulking, gaskets, wall insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, sealants, and rope.  Asbestos was also used in the aircraft that she carried.  Men who served aboard the USS Bairoko or were involved in her repair and overhaul were exposed to asbestos without the benefit of protective clothing and respiratory gear.  This put them at risk for any number of asbestos-related illnesses, including mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, and rectal cancer.

USS Bairoko 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 Bairoko, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights

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