Asbestos Exposure During Military Service


Health Editor’s Note: Asbestos minerals contain atoms of silicon and oxygen and are so tiny that when inhaled can reach the pulmonary alveoli sacs (where oxygen and carbon dioxide  are exchanged in the blood) of your lungs.  Asbestos can be found, occurring naturally, in the environment (erionite). 

Asbestos is the name given to six minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers that can be separated into thin, durable threads for use in commercial and industrial applications. These fibers are resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals and do not conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been used widely in many industries.

Asbestos has been mined and used in North America since the later part of the 1800s.  It’s use increased during World War II and since then construction industries use it to insulate, for roofing, sound proofing, adding strength to cement, ship builders use it for insulating boilers, steam and hot water pipes, automobile manufacturers use it for brake shoes and clutch pads, and it has also found use in floor and ceiling tiles, coatings, paints, adhesives and plastics.  

Asbestos can be divided into two groups depending on its physical design.  Chrysotile, or serpentine asbestos has long curly fibers and is the one that is most used for commercial applications.  The second group is amphibole which has needle-like fibers and due to its brittleness is not used as much. 

By the late 1970s, the U.S. Consumer Product Safely Commission banned asbestos from some areas because asbestos was being released into the environment. The E.P.A. also banned any new use of asbestos in 1989 while uses developed before 1989 was allowed. Big on the list were schools that the E.P.A. ordered to be inspected for damaged asbestos and then to remove it to avoid exposure of school children to asbestos.     

Asbestos is classified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Environmental Protection Agency, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a known human carcinogen. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the membranes that line the chest and abdomen and cancers of the ovary, larynx, and lungs and is the most common form of cancer that is associated with exposure to asbestos.The following article is important to those who served in the military……Carol    

Military Service & Asbestos Exposure: Things You Should Know

By Charles Macgregor

Millions of individuals have served the United States as members of the armed forces. Throughout the decades these individuals have faced numerous challenges during their enlisted service. One specific threat that disproportionately impacts our veterans is high exposure rates to asbestos. This toxin is a leading cause of mesothelioma cancer.

Asbestos was used by the U.S. military in hundreds of applications. The accessibility of this natural mineral paired with the low cost, heat and fire-resistant properties, ease and versatility of application made asbestos an appealing product for the government. It is estimated that between 1930 and 1978, 25 million tons of asbestos was used by U.S. shipyards exposing 4.5 million workers, the majority of those members of the military. Asbestos could be found in many applications on both domestic and foreign military bases, from engine and boiler rooms to sleeping quarters and mess halls.

Exposure to asbestos was unavoidable for many military personnel based on their specific duties or occupations. Due to this mesothelioma remains one of the most serious diseases affecting veterans today. Most commonly, individuals who served between World War II and the Vietnam War are at the highest risk to develop asbestos-related diseases.

Many times, the war is not over when a veteran returns home. Service in the military can have a myriad of long lasting effects on veterans. Later in life, horrendous experiences and hazardous exposures can present severe health complications, including a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Of all the individuals in the United States that have been diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer, the veteran population has experienced the most devastation. Thirty percent of all Americans diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer are veterans who were exposed during enlisted active duty.

Mesothelioma Threats by Branch

The Navy

The highest concentration of asbestos exposure and subsequent mesothelioma diagnoses across all of the military branches occurred in the Navy. Asbestos was used at scale in ships and across shipyards as a key component in over 300 different materials aboard Navy vessels. Since many ships and other military assets remain “in service” for many years, they continue to harbor asbestos threats that present exposure risks today.

When completing any type of asbestos abatement project, or general maintenance efforts, current military personnel could still be at risk for asbestos exposure. Aware of the dangers, several safety precautions have been implemented to minimize any ongoing exposure risks to our active duty servicemen.

The Army

Army bases are often the largest among service bases, full of numerous buildings and vehicles that were built with common asbestos materials. Army bases, including sleeping barracks, mess halls, storage facilities, training facilities, and family housing create not only a threat for soldiers but also families who lived on the base. Examples of the types of asbestos containing products used in buildings include flooring, tiles, wall insulation, ceiling tiles, asbestos cement, and exterior siding. Eventually the use of asbestos declined, though today there are many military installations that are still operational and were built well before any proper regulations were enacted.

Our Airmen

 Veterans of the United States Air Force has an increased risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. The U.S. armed services heavily utilized asbestos-containing materials during the era that the Air Force was instituted. Asbestos will be found in standard building materials across most Air Force bases. Additionally, aircraft braking systems, plane engines, and other mechanical plane parts contained high levels of asbestos. Veteran Airmen that serviced planes are among the Air Force’s highest risk for development of lung-related diseases, such as pleural mesothelioma.

The Marines

Cases of asbestos cancer are most common in the Navy, but Marine Corps veterans face many of the same exposure risks as Navy personnel. Marine Corps veterans that spent significant time at sea, or around building debris during a deployment, should have a heightened level of awareness of potential exposure.

The Coastguard

 Similar to the Navy, asbestos was utilized in all areas of Coast Guard vessels, with the intent to limit any chances of a fire while aboard ship. The Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard, located just south of Baltimore, MD, is the Coast Guard’s primary shipbuilding and maintenance facility and has been for over a century. This shipyard was a primary place for occupational asbestos exposure for Coast Guard veterans.

Veteran Exposure Checklist:

Which specific environments pose a risk for asbestos exposure? Check here and choose the specific ship you served on.

  • Symptoms of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases may not present themselves for upwards of 40 years after exposure. If you have confirmed that you were exposed, do not hesitate to visit a doctor. If diagnosed, finding the best mesothelioma medical experts for treatment options is crucial.
  • If you think you could have been exposed, taking preventative measures, including quitting smoking, can greatly increases your chances of survival. The risk for developing mesothelioma is greater in those who smoke. Also, get flu and pneumonia shots to reduce your risk of more common lung infections.
  • You and your family may be entitled to compensation for your suffering. If you are exposed and diagnosed from your service in the military or any other line of work, a mesothelioma lawyer may be able to help.



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