Asbestos was used throughout the shipbuilding process because of its remarkable insulating and heat-shielding capacities. Boilers, hot water pipes, reactors, furnaces, steam pipes and incinerators were all covered with asbestos in order to contain the high heat used to power ships as they traveled across the Atlantic and Pacific.
Because asbestos was used so heavily on the ships, it was almost inevitable that shipbuilders and shipfitters would have physical contact with the deadly toxin on a daily basis. Asbestos dust, knocked loose from the materials it covered, collected in the poorly ventilated areas underneath the decks of ships only to be inhaled by workers on duty or even sleeping in their quarters at night.
Ships damaged in battle and brought back to shipyards for repairs or conversions offered additional opportunities for workers to touch and breathe asbestos.