Asbestos in the military

USS Colorado BB-45


Description:  History of the U.S. Navy battleship USS Colorado (BB-45) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.

The USS Colorado (BB-45) was ordered for the U.S. Navy on August 29, 1916.  Her keel was laid down at New York Shipbuilding Corporation on May 29, 1919.  She was launched on March 22, 1921 and commissioned on August 30, 1923 under the command of Captain R. R. Belknap.

USS Colorado’s maiden voyage brought her from New York City to Portsmouth, England; Cherbourg, France; Villefranche, France; Naples, Italy; and Gibraltar before she returned to New York on February 15, 1924.  She sailed for San Francisco later that year and served as a member of the Navy’s Pacific Battle Fleet. The battleship participated in fleet exercises, ceremonies, and aided in fleet problems.  Her guns were upgraded in 1928 and 1929.

The USS Colorado helped provide earthquake relief at Long Beach, California in March 1933.  She assisted in the search for Amelia Earhart from June to July of 1937.  She was based in Pearl Harbor for training exercises and war games from January until July of 1941, when she headed to Puget Sound Navy Yard for overhaul.

The battleship joined in World War II when she and the USS Maryland formed a line of defense in case the Japanese attempted an attack on San Francisco.  She then headed for the Fiji Islands and New Hebrides via Pearl Harbor from November 1942 until September 1943.  The battleship provided pre-invasion bombardment and fire support for the invasion of Tarawa in October, and then for the invasions of Kwajalein and Eniwetok from January to February 1944.

After being overhauled at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, USS Colorado set out for bombardment and fire support duties at Saipan, Guam, and Tinian.  She was hit by enemy shells on July 24, but remained to support the mission until August 3.  After being repaired on the West Coast, the battleship provided support to the U.S. troops fighting on shore in Leyte Gulf on November 20, 1944. One week later, she was hit by two kamikazes, killing 19 men, injuring 72 others, and causing moderate damage.  She remained to bombard Mindoro as planned, then headed to Manus Island for emergency repairs.

USS Colorado took part in pre-invasion bombardments in Lingayen Gulf in January 1945.  On January 9, she was hit by accidental gunfire to her superstructure, killing 18 men and injuring 51.  The battleship replenished at Ulithi before aiding in the bombardment and fire support at Kerama Retto for the invasion of Okinawa.

The USS Colorado made it to Seattle, Washington for the Navy-Day celebration on October 27, 1945.  She made a number of runs to Pearl Harbor for Operation Magic Carpet, transporting over 6,000 veterans back to the United States mainland.  The battleship received seven battle stars for her service during World War II.

USS Colorado then reported to Bremerton Navy Yard for inactivation.  She was decommissioned on January 7, 1947 and sold for scrap on July 23, 1959.

Like all other navy ships of its time, the USS Colorado was built with a number of asbestos-containing components.  Asbestos was prized for its fireproofing properties as well as its resistance to water, heat, and corrosion.  Because it was cheap and readily available, it could be found in boilers, incinerators, turbines, engine rooms, valves, gaskets, steam pipes, hot water pipes, electrical wiring, caulking, sealants, fire doors, floor and ceiling tiles, pumps, and wall insulation.  Anyone who served aboard the USS Colorado or participated in its repair and overhaul was exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos without the benefit of protective clothing and respiratory gear.

Asbestos fibers are dangerous when they are inhaled or ingested, as they can become lodged in the lungs and digestive tract.  When this occurs, it can lead to asbestos-related illnesses like throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that affects the protective lining surrounding the lungs and other organs.  I

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

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