The USS Arizona and Asbestos

Image of USS Arizona Memorial, representing the service members who worked on and around the USS Arizona and asbestos materials used in her and now risk developing asbestos-related illnesses including mesothelioma.

What relationship is there with the USS Arizona and asbestos? Asbestos became common material for use in shipbuilding during the early part of the 20th century. Asbestos was prized for its resistance to fire, heat, water, and corrosion. It could be found in valves, boilers, gaskets, turbines, incinerators, engine rooms, hot water pipes, steam pipes, fire doors, floor and ceiling tiles, wall insulation, and electrical wiring. Like many ships of its day, the USS Arizona (BB-39) contained asbestos materials.

Asbestos fibers are dangerous when inhaled or ingested because they can become lodged in the lungs and digestive tract. This can result in a number of serious asbestos-related illnesses including asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, or rectal cancer. Mesothelioma is a rare but serious form of cancer that attacks the protective lining that surrounds the lungs and other organs.

The USS Arizona and Asbestos: The Installation of Asbestos Materials on the Ship

The USS Arizona was ordered for the United States Navy in 1913 and built in 1914 at the Naval Yard in Brooklyn, NY. The battleship underwent modernization at the Norfolk Navy Yard from 1929 to 1930, upgrading armor, armament, and other ship components. From 1929 to 1940, the USS Arizona received four upgrades or modernizations. She was last overhauled at Puget Sound in late 1940.

The modernization and overhaul work would have included asbestos material. By 1939, the Navy was recommending work precautions for those exposed to asbestos. Although mesothelioma would not be associated with asbestos until after the USS Arizona’s sinking, servicemen working on the upgrades and modernization during the 1930s would have been exposed to the asbestos material known to lead to the disease.

Work Activity on the USS Arizona Exposing Servicemen to Asbestos

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has compiled a list of the ways that service members were exposed to asbestos, placing them at risk of mesothelioma or other asbestos related illnesses. Service members who performed any of the following tasks may have been exposed to asbestos:

  • Renovated asbestos-containing structures and/or removal of asbestos materials;
  • Served on ships whose keels were laid before 1983;
  • Worked in shipyards from the 1930s through the 1990s;
  • Worked below deck where asbestos was often used and the ventilation was often poor;
  • Removed damaged asbestos and then used that asbestos material to re-wrap pipes; or
  • Worked with, handled, damaged, or disturbed any asbestos containing material.

Additionally, pipefitters, welders, boiler operators, building renovation and demolition specialists who worked on the USS Arizona.

The USS Arizona (BB-39) History in Brief

The USS Arizona was launched on June 19, 1915. Prior to World War I, she joined Battleship Division 8. The USS Arizona remained close to home during the war due to her being an oil burning ship and not a coal burning ship (coal being easier to supply). She patrolled the eastern seaboard of the United States and served as a gunnery training ship. After the Armistice, the battleship participated in the escort of President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference and was able to repatriate 238 veterans on her return to New York Bay.

The USS Arizona spent the first half of 1919 at her base in Norfolk, Virginia, sailing to perform battle maneuvers at Guantanamo Bay. She also traveled to the Aegean Sea to shelter American citizens and Greek nationals on board during tensions between Greece and Turkey when Greece occupied Smyrna. Later that year, the USS Arizona returned to the Navy Yard at New York for maintenance, removal of six of her original guns, and an update of her fire control system.

The USS Arizona was given the hull designation BB-39 (battleship designation) and made the flagship for Battle Division 7 in 1920. Prior to World War II, the USS Arizona served in locations including Guantanamo Bay, the Panama Canal Zone, Peru, Balboa, New York, Cape Charles, San Diego, San Pedro, the West Indies, the waters between Hawaii and the West Coast, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the northern Alaskan waters. During the 1930s she was permanently assigned to the Pacific.

The USS Arizona (BB-39) at Pearl Harbor

After her final overhaul at Puget Sound, the USS Arizona returned to Pearl Harbor for intensive training with the Navy’s Pacific Fleet. She completed a night firing exercise with the USS Nevada and USS Oklahoma on December 4, 1941. Throughout her history, each time the USS Arizona (BB-39) fired her guns and shook the ship, asbestos was potentially disturbed.

The USS Arizona’s air raid alarm sounded shortly before 0800 on December 7, 1941. Five minutes later, the Japanese bombed the battleship, causing fires and detonating the ammunition magazine located in the armored section under the deck. The resulting explosion destroyed the forward part of the ship. The bombing and sinking of the USS Arizona killed 1,177 of the 1,400 crewmen who were on board–more than half of the military casualties suffered by the fleet during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The USS Arizona (BB-39) was removed from the Naval Vessel Register a year after her sinking. The wreckage remains as part of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. The battleship was awarded one battle star, and she was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. The USS Arizona (BB-39) was designated a National Historical Landmark on May 5, 1989.

Questions About the USS Arizona and Asbestos

USS Arizona survivors should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with exposure to asbestos or with having mesothelioma. Anyone who worked on or around the USS Arizona and asbestos contained in it or in a Navy shipyard and is diagnosed with mesothelioma should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss his or her legal rights.

Nemeroff Law is a nationwide law firm specializing in mesothelioma and asbestos-related personal injury claims. We can provide you with expert representation. Contact us today by telephone: 866-342-1929 or by email:

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