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Veterans and Mesothelioma

Military veterans make up at least 30 percent of the mesothelioma cases diagnosed every year due to extensive asbestos exposure across all branches of the armed forces. Even today, active-duty service members are at risk, exposed to asbestos while serving overseas.

The widespread use of asbestos from 1935 through 1975 in the United States for fireproofing and insulation put hundreds of thousands of veterans at risk. Asbestos products manufacturers withheld vital information about the dangers of the mineral so it was widely used in military housing, tanks, ships, airplanes and clothing.

Veterans who served through the 1980s and, more recently, in Iraq and Afghanistan are at risk for developing asbestos-related health problems. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and asbestos products manufacturers have acknowledged problems with asbestos and the impact it has service men and women and their families.

Asbestos in the Military

Asbestos use in the United States dates back to the 1800s, but it was not until the 1920s that the U.S. military deemed it vital to operations. Despite health warnings, asbestos-products manufactures continued to sell dangerous products and downplayed the risks, possibly contributing to the continued use of the toxic mineral in the military.

In the early 1900s, the overall U.S. asbestos use was 197 million pounds annually. By World War II, the United States averaged 783 million pounds a year. It was used in all branches of the military in a variety of war-related equipment because of its heat resistance and durability.

Asbestos Use in the Navy

Due to the abundant use of asbestos in the Navy, naval veterans are most often diagnosed with mesothelioma over other military veterans. The U.S. Navy used asbestos in all of its vessels, including battleships, destroyers, frigates, submarines, patrol boats and mine sweepers. It was used anywhere in a ship that needed heat and fire resistance, including boiler rooms, engine rooms, weapons and ammunition storage rooms.

Asbestos-containing materials in naval ships included insulation, packing materials, pump valves, gaskets and filters. Nearly every pipe and ventilation duct was covered with asbestos felt insulation. Asbestos was woven into fire-resistant clothing, blankets and ropes. Sailors slept in bunks located under asbestos-covered pipes and used asbestos-containing blankets.

Even on land, naval personnel were in danger of exposure. During the height of World War II, shipbuilder in shipyards across the eastern seaboard constructed about 50 new ships a day. All of them contained massive amounts of asbestos.


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High Risk Naval Occupations

Hundreds of thousands of naval personnel were exposed to the dangerous mineral. Some of the leading naval occupations that were most at risk are as follows:

  • Boatswain’s mate – Handled rope, wire and anchor chains. Directed salvage.
  • Boilermakers – Fitted pipes, made repairs in boilers and cleaned boiler furnaces.
  • Carpenter’s mate – Maintained ventilation, painting and watertight controls.
  • Electrician’s mate – Repaired shipboard electrical equipment.
  • Fire Controlman – Inspected and repaired fire control instruments and took charge of fire control equipment.
  • Gunners’ mate – Assembled and fired all types of weaponry. Handled munitions, mines and depth charges.
  • Hull maintenance technician – Built and maintained ship structures such as sanitation and plumbing systems.
  • Machinery repairman – Repaired a wide range of machinery on board.
  • Machinist’s mate – nstalled, repaired and operated shipboard engines.
  • Pipefitter – Built and maintained pipe systems throughout ships.
  • Radioman – Maintained radio equipment.
  • Seabee – Built roads and runways. Skilled in plumbing, welding and electrical work.
  • Shipfitter – Used machine and hand tools for steel metal work.
  • Water tender – took charge of fireroom (also called boiler room) when the ship was under way. Maintained, repaired, and overhauled boiler system.
  • Welder – Performed metalwork on ship and land.

The Lingering Effects of Asbestos

Even though the Navy stopped using asbestos in its ships by the 1970s, the effects linger. Aging ships with peeling paint and cracking insulation release asbestos fibers into the air and put even more naval personnel at risk.

Even today, asbestos continues to be a threat to naval service members. Some of the asbestos that was on aging ships remains in place. Because asbestos is not banned in the United States, it is still used if there are no other alternatives.


Asbestos Use in the U.S. Army

Army veterans who spent any amount of time inside military vehicles, military sleeping quarters or any sort of military building run a high risk of developing mesothelioma.

  • Army vehicles – Almost every vehicle and vehicle parts used in the U.S. Army contained asbestos in some form, including in gaskets, brake pads, clutches and heating systems.
  • Barracks – Military sleeping quarters were built with asbestos-containing materials, including ceiling and floor tiles, cement, wiring insulation, wall insulation and siding.
  • Construction work sites – Work sites that included building, remodeling and repairing infrastructure contained loose asbestos fibers.

Army occupations that were predominately exposed to asbestos include artilleryman, infantryman and vehicle mechanic.


Asbestos Use in the Air Force

Airmen were exposed to asbestos while flying and on the ground. The aircraft contained scores of parts that had asbestos and pilots wore asbestos-containing protective gear. Some Air Force uses of asbestos included:

  • Aircrafts – Planes used by the Air Force contained asbestos in brake pads, electrical wiring, engine heat shields, gaskets and insulation.
  • Barracks – Much like the Army, the Air Force used asbestos in all areas of military sleeping quarters, from floor to ceiling.

At-risk air force occupations included aircraft mechanics, pilots and environmental support specialists.


Asbestos Use in the U.S. Marines

Since Marines worked on land, in the air and at sea, they were exposed to asbestos in all forms. They often traveled aboard naval ships and aircrafts, facing the same threats of exposure as sailors and airmen.

At-risk occupations in the Marines included mechanics and construction workers.


Asbestos Exposure During Wartime

Asbestos use was prevalent during all military actions in modern time, predominantly on ships, aircrafts and vehicles. Asbestos was widely found in the following U.S.-involved wars:

  • World War II (1939-1945) – Military leaders during World War II used asbestos in all military branches because it was a inexpensive and effective way to protect equipment from heat and fire damage. Although the U.S. surgeon general in 1939 expressed his concerns of about asbestos-related health problems, asbestos use continued. The demand for asbestos was so great there were fears during World War II there would be a shortage so it was stockpiled.
  • Korean War (1950-1953) – Throughout the Korean War, asbestos use was again rampant despite the known dangers. Many of the ships used during World War II were put into action again, putting sailors again at risk.
  • Vietnam War (1965-1973) – Despite the U.S. Department Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishing standards for asbestos use during the Vietnam War timeframe, it did little to quash asbestos exposure.
  • Gulf War (1990-1991) – During the Gulf War, members of the military were exposed to airborne asbestos fibers when hundreds of buildings and oil wells were destroyed. In addition, some naval vessels that had been used for 40-plus years were placed back in service without asbestos abatement.
  • Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (2001 to current) – Even with the military’s concerted efforts to abate asbestos from vessels and vehicles, military personnel were still exposed during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Old buildings in the Middle East that were destroyed during military action released asbestos fibers into the air. Burn pits, used to destroy military waste on bases, released airborne particles including asbestos. Military veterans who have developed asbestos-related diseases are entitled to compensation from the VA and asbestos trust funds. Contact us today to find out more information.

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