Navy Did Not Protect All Veterans from Mesothelioma



Calling it one of the “most knowledgeable organizations in the world regarding the health hazards of asbestos,” a San Francisco-based chemical risk assessment company says that the U.S. Navy was ahead of the curve in attempting to protect veterans and civilians from mesothelioma in the 1960’s.  Ships of that era were heavily laden with asbestos, making Navy veterans among the most common victims of mesothelioma, the most serious of the diseases caused by asbestos exposure.

But according to Kara Franke and Dennis Paustenbach who examined dozens of published and unpublished documents on asbestos knowledge from 1900 to 1970, the Navy understood the health hazards of asbestos as early as the 1930’s. Although they continued to require its use on ships, the Navy also recommended certain precautions for safe handling of the material.  After mesothelioma was clearly linked to asbestos in the 1960’s, the ChemRisk researchers say the Navy “attempted to implement procedures that would minimize the opportunity for adverse effects on both servicemen and civilians.”

Despite those precautions, it was too little, too late for many servicemen.  Mesothelioma can take as long as 40 years to develop after asbestos exposure, meaning that many veterans had already set the stage for the disease from asbestos exposure during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Thousands of people working in other industries were also exposed to mesothelioma-causing asbestos because their employers were either unaware, or chose to ignore, the growing evidence of the material’s toxicity and carcinogenicity.

Published in the journal Inhalation Toxicology, Franke and Paustenbach’s study found that, by as early as 1930, “it was clear that occupational exposure to asbestos caused a unique disease (asbestosis)”. Understanding of asbestos increased steadily between about 1938 and 1965 during which time “a considerable amount of exposure and epidemiology data was collected” by private and government scientists. Franke and Paustenbach’s study was recently presented at the 21st annual International Society of Exposure Science meeting in Baltimore. Maryland.

In the U.S., about 2,500 people each year are diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung and abdominal lining that typically carries a poor prognosis.  Standard treatment for mesothelioma includes chemotherapy (alimta and cisplatin or carboplatin), surgery (where appropriate), and radiation in some cases.  Today, multi-modality treatments, immune therapies and gene therapies are being investigated as potential therapeutic modalities for mesothelioma victims.


Franke, K & Paustenbach, D, “Government and Navy knowledge regarding health hazards of asbestos: A state of the science evaluation (1900 to 1970)”, December 2011, Inhalation Toxicology, pp. 1 – 20.

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