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Veterans are at increased risk of being diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos caused diseases. During WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, most U.S. military ships, aircraft and vehicles used various types of asbestos containing products. Navy ships, in particular, used an extensive amount of asbestos to help avoid ship fires. Aircraft used asbestos in a variety of areas including insulating cabins from the heat produced by engines. And vehicles from tanks to trucks used asbestos in transmissions, clutches and brakes.
On a ship the threat of fire can be as dangerous as an enemy attack. As a result, asbestos, a highly effective heat insulator, was used extensively on naval vessels. Navy veterans can recall sleeping in bunks where asbestos wrapped pipes were placed inches from their nose and mouth. Sometimes these sailors would wake up covered in asbestos dust. In addition to sleeping quarters, Navy ships used asbestos in engine rooms, boiler rooms, weapons and ammunition storage, navigation rooms, and even mess halls.
Examples of Navy Veterans
There are thousands of examples of Navy veterans who were exposed to asbestos on the ships they served and, years later, were diagnosed with mesothelioma. Here are just two examples:
Val J. was exposed to asbestos while serving in the U.S. Navy from 1957-1960. He was aboard the USS Arcadia and the USS Ware. On the USS Ware he was an interior communications electrician where he maintained all of the communication circuits, intercom systems, telephone systems and all of the signal and alarm systems. This equipment was located in “practically every compartment on the ship,” including the boiler and engine rooms. Val was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2000.
George M. served as a fireman from 1961-1965 aboard the USS Beale and USS Conygham. His duties required him to work with and around asbestos containing products and equipment including, gaskets, pipe covering and boilers. He recalled removing old pipe covering with a hammer or handsaw to repair leaks in the pipes and then replacing the discarded material with fresh pipe covering. He said it was “pretty messy” and very dusty with lot of airborne debris. In October 2000, George was diagnosed with mesothelioma
Shipyard Workers Also Susceptible to Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma
Shipyard workers, even those who never served on board a ship at sea, were also exposed to asbestos. With the advent of WWII, the U.S. added thousands of new ships to its fleet. It is estimated that thousands of metric tons of asbestos was used by nearly 4 million men and women who built and repaired these vessels. In fact, working in a U.S. shipyard during WWII was almost as deadly as fighting. According to one source, while the combat death rate was 18 per 1,000, approximately 14 per 1,000 shipyard workers died of mesothelioma.
Many soldiers in the other services were shipped to the various theatres of war using Navy transport vessels. Depending on where these troops were bunked they may have also been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos products were used in and around cables, pipes, gaskets, valves, boilers pumps, motors and compressors.
For Air Force personnel there were two main sources of asbestos exposure – base housing and the aircraft themselves. A number of government studies have concluded that Air Force base housing contained asbestos in various buildings. Asbestos was found in: floor tile, pipe wrapping, vinyl flooring, ceiling material, wall insulation, drywall and stucco. Servicemen living in this housing, especially those who may have renovated or repaired the housing may have been put at risk for asbestos exposure. In addition, asbestos has been used on different parts of aircraft for decades for fire prevention. Aircraft such as the C-130, SR-71, P-38, B-29 and the UH-1 are known to have contained asbestos within their brakes, engine heat shields, gaskets, electrical wire insulation, and cargo bays. Anyone maintaining or repairing this equipment may have been exposed to asbestos.
All branches of the service used vehicles – jeeps, cars, trucks and tanks. From the 1940’s through the 1960’s, most vehicles contained asbestos within their brakes, clutches and transmissions. Any personnel involved in repairing these vehicles may have put themselves at risk for asbestos exposure.
Clearly there were extensive risks to servicemen within the major armed services from asbestos. These risks were invisible and ubiquitous and, like a ticking time bomb, could cause mesothelioma and other asbestos caused diseases decades later.