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 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.
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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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:
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.
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 occupations that were predominately exposed to asbestos include artilleryman, infantryman and vehicle mechanic.
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:
At-risk air force occupations included aircraft mechanics, pilots and environmental support specialists.
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 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:
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