Military Asbestos Use Still Causing Problems

Here is an article about the dangers of asbestos use to personnel working in the the US military.

Asbestos is a particularly dangerous substance. It is used far less than it used to be because of the health risks connected with its use. Nevertheless, people working in many industries are still affected by asbestos use in the past. This is a problem which may stay with us for some time, only diminishing as old equipment and buildings are decomissioned. It may take decades before the problems associated with asbestos use in the military are gone for good.

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Asbestos use in the US military

Scientists and cancer researchers have understood the dangers involved in handling, breaking and disposing of asbestos for years. Workers in the construction, remodeling and demolition trades have also learned about this hazardous material and now take proper precautions when working with asbestos. However, the highest rates of asbestos exposure during the last few decades have come from among those men and women serving in our country’s armed forces.

Many military projects, especially shipbuilding, used asbestos as early as the 1930s. At the start of World War II, with the increased demand for ships, tanks and aircraft, factories and shipyards around the country used asbestos as an insulation and fireproofing material. Thousands, perhaps millions, of factory workers, shipyard crews, soldiers, sailors and airmen were exposed to the dangerous mineral as recently as the 1980s.

Common asbestos uses

Before scientists discovered the dangers behind asbestos, workers found the mineral to be a highly useful substance. Sheets of asbestos were lightweight, insulated areas from temperature extremes, and resisted heat and flames. While the uses for such a material were widespread, the primary application of asbestos was in shipbuilding. Asbestos sheets protected the components of a naval vessel from the heat generated by boilers and pipes.

Since many parts of naval vessels constructed in the mid-Twentieth Century used either processed asbestos or asbestos-containing materials, naval personnel suffered a much higher rate of asbestos exposure than servicemen in other branches of the armed forces.

Of those sailors on board ships and submarines throughout those years, those stationed in high-temperature areas such as engines and boiler rooms were typically surrounded by asbestos insulation. Other sailors who may have handled brake pads, gaskets or asbestos-laced cement would also have been exposed.

Asbestos use in ship construction

Many of the cases that affected both military and civilian personnel occurred during ship construction. Workers at several naval shipyards, from San Diego to Groton, Connecticut and from Pensacola, Florida, to Bremerton, Washington, have all reported instances of asbestos-related lung disease from their years of working on naval vessels.

Sailors and submariners who served on those ships also stated that they had suffered from respiratory ailments attributable to asbestos. Thousands of sailors who crewed on hundreds of cruisers, destroyers, submarines and other vessels were exposed to the toxic substance as part of their daily lives as they carried out their duties.

Military asbestos use continues today

Although shipbuilders and other manufacturers of military equipment have not used asbestos over the last few decades, some naval vessels and other military facilities that were constructed during earlier years are still in use. While the incidence rate for asbestos-related lung diseases is expected to decline over time, the current trends call for more veterans to report cases of respiratory disorders.

Typically, when asbestos fibers are either soaked in water or bound in cement, they do not present an extremely hazardous work environment, although workers do need to take proper precautions when handling such materials. When asbestos fibers break loose from their bonding material and become airborne, the work setting can become highly dangerous.

Lung cancer from asbestos fibers

On many of the ships and submarines in the US Navy, sailors work in small, enclosed workspaces. When asbestos fibers come loose, sailors can inhale those fibers. The fibers then work their way through the respiratory system and attack the pleural mesothelium, the fluid layer that protects the lungs, which is the primary cause of mesothelioma, and aggressive and deadly form of lung cancer.

The first step in determining whether or not a veteran has contracted mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease is to consult his physician. Since mesothelioma can lie dormant for several decades before the patient exhibits any symptoms, early detection is critical. In most cases, once the disease’s symptoms become noticeable, the avenues for treatment become much more limited and severe.

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has a comprehensive program to help veterans that have been exposed to asbestos. However, the process entails a lot of detailed, often confusing, paperwork and bureaucracy. You can check out what is available here.


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