Members of the U.S. Coast Guard, like those in all branches of military service, often were exposed to asbestos, the naturally occurring mineral that was used so liberally through much of the 20th century. Although health hazards of asbestos were known as early as the World War II era, the wondrous qualities it possessed – heat resistance, durability, affordability – made it particularly invaluable on vessels built for the Navy and the Coast Guard. Since the threat of fire was such a pressing concern aboard vessels, the risks of asbestos exposure were ignored by those implementing its use.
It was used in gaskets, boiler room equipment, pumps, turbines, electrical insulation, pipes and plumbing. All areas surrounding the engine and boiler rooms were insulated with asbestos. The ropes used throughout ships were woven with asbestos fibers. Many sections of ships were coated with asbestos insulation, which served as a valuable fire retardant.