Mesothelioma is a devastating type of cancer almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos. Throughout most of the 20th century, asbestos was used in construction and manufacturing all across the United States – including in the Armed Forces – because of its inexpensive and durable qualities. In the 1980s, the general public became aware that asbestos is highly toxic to humans and can cause cancer when inhaled. Accordingly, thousands of Americans have been diagnosed with mesothelioma resulting from exposure to asbestos.
Our veterans are unfortunately no exception, and in some cases, veterans may be even more likely to develop mesothelioma than others due to heavy asbestos usage by the Armed Forces during the 20th century. In fact, one in every three new diagnoses of mesothelioma are received by American veterans from every branch of the military.
Asbestos is a fibrous material made up of tiny fibers that mesh together to create an inexpensive, durable, fireproof, and waterproof material. Between 1930 and 1980, every branch of the Armed Forces used asbestos extensively, as its dangers were not known. In construction contexts, asbestos was frequently used as an insulation material, and in manufacturing and engineering contexts, asbestos could be used for heat-resistant durable parts.
The American military used asbestos across every applicable context, and because its toxicity was not known, veterans were exposed to asbestos without appropriate protective gear. In this article, we’ll outline some of the most common asbestos exposure settings in the Armed Forces.
Aircraft and Air Bases
One of the biggest advantages that asbestos offered was its insulating, heat-resistant and durable qualities. These qualities made asbestos an ideal component for usage on military aircraft of all types, including the following:
- B-series bomber planes
- F-series fighter jets
- T-series tanker jets
- Utility aircraft and anti-submarine jets
Primarily, asbestos was used on aircraft in two manners: for insulation, and in parts. Because asbestos is a reliable insulator, it was often placed inside an airplane’s cockpit body for heat and sound insulation in protection of the pilot. Otherwise, asbestos-based paint and coatings could be applied to an aircraft body and to its fuselage to assist in insulating the aircraft. With respect to brakes and engine parts, asbestos was frequently used in manufacturing brake pads because of its heat-resistant and durable qualities. Every time an aircraft’s brakes were applied, asbestos fibers would have broken loose and floated into the air, becoming free for inhalation.
For these reasons, military veterans who were pilots or aircraft maintenance workers are at high risk for developing mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure.
Ammunition Storage Rooms
A fire in an ammunition storage room would be a disastrous scenario on a military base, as these storage rooms often stored firearms, explosives, and other highly flammable materials. Understandably, asbestos was a commonly used material in constructing ammunition storage rooms, as asbestos is durable and extremely resistant to fire.
Between 1930 and 1980, the Armed Forces used asbestos frequently in ammunition storage rooms to ensure soldier safety. Asbestos-based material could have been used in virtually every aspect of such a room – including the walls, flooring, ceiling, insulation, and as a fire-resistant coating on non-asbestos materials. Ironically, that usage of asbestos created a greater harm. Today, American veterans who worked in ammunition storage rooms are at very high risk for having been exposed to asbestos during their military service, and may be entitled to receive compensation.
Machinery and Boiler Rooms
Machinery rooms and boiler rooms frequently rise to very high temperatures – especially on board naval vessels, where adequate ventilation may be nonexistent. In these rooms, asbestos was frequently used as insulation due to its heat-resistant qualities, as insulating the boiler room allowed for the rest of the ship to stay cool. However, because of the poor ventilation in these rooms, when asbestos fibers were released into the air, they were likely to stay there for prolonged periods of time. Unfortunately, veterans who worked in machinery and boiler rooms are among the highest risk veterans for sustained asbestos exposure.
Mess halls are the cafeterias and eating spaces on a military base. Unlike previous locations on this list, mess halls have no features that made asbestos particularly useful. Rather, because soldiers eat in mess halls, inhalation of asbestos is more likely because of the nature of eating. Eating requires us to open our mouths, inhale, and swallow. During any of these movements, airborne fibers have more opportunities to enter our bodies than if we were standing still. Because asbestos was used so frequently on military bases, including in mess halls, many asbestos exposures likely occurred in these spaces.
On military bases, exposed pipework and ductwork is common on walls and ceilings alike. In the 20th century, many of those exposed pipes and ducts were insulated with asbestos or entirely constructed from asbestos. When any type of disturbance occurs – whether airflow, vibration, or other movement – asbestos fibers can break loose from those exposed pipes. Barracks, or military sleeping areas, are especially prone to causing asbestos exposure because of the amounts of time spent in these spaces by soldiers. We spend a significant amount of time sleeping, and during sleep, soldiers were highly likely to inhale asbestos fibers on base. When not sleeping, the same fibers likely piled up on clothing, bedding, and other materials in high quantities, to be inhaled later.
Military vehicles of all types frequently contained asbestos materials for the same reasons as military aircraft. Because asbestos was cheap, fire-resistant, and heat-resistant, it was frequently used in military vehicles in many different applications, and in vehicles of all types, including jeeps, humvees, and transporters. More specifically, asbestos could be found in the following vehicle components:
- Brake pads and braking components
- Electrical wiring insulation
- Clutch pads
- Gaskets and valves
- Tires and wheel components
- Paints, coatings, and sealants
Because of the way asbestos was frequently used on military vehicles, all military occupations involving the maintenance and operation of vehicles are at high risk for having been exposed to toxic asbestos during military service.
Ships and Watercraft
As previously discussed, asbestos had many applications in machine rooms and boiler rooms on military watercraft. But in addition to those rooms which experienced high temperatures, asbestos was used in almost every other setting on board a military ship. Because asbestos was fire-resistant, the Navy saw the material as being a safe and cost-effective solution for building new watercraft. Asbestos was present on virtually every military watercraft built between 1930 and 1980. Among those watercraft include aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers, frigates, destroyer ships, and submarines.
Due to the lack of sufficient airflow onboard many ships, asbestos fibers often remained in the air for prolonged and sustained amounts of time. Thus, even veterans who did not work in boiler rooms or engine rooms are still at high risk for having been exposed to asbestos onboard a military watercraft, as asbestos could have been present in any room onboard the ship – including barracks, hallways, storage areas, and mess halls.
Military shipyards are construction facilities for boats, ships, and other watercraft. On these sites, asbestos exposure was frequent and sustained due to asbestos being used in ship construction. Veterans who worked on shipyards frequently handled asbestos materials directly with no protective gear, and were thus directly exposed to toxic and carcinogenic asbestos.
Shipyard workers generally handled asbestos insulation, but also worked with asbestos materials in rigid and aerosol forms. When rigid form asbestos is cut, asbestos fibers are freely released into the air in very large quantities. The workers in that area are thus at high risk for inhaling asbestos fibers, and for that reason, shipyard workers are at some of the highest risk for developing mesothelioma.
In addition to ship construction, ship, and watercraft maintenance was also frequently performed at shipyards. In the height of military asbestos usage, many older military watercraft were “updated” with asbestos-containing materials, as the military believed asbestos had many positive effects for insulation and safety. Ship maintenance workers were also likely exposed to asbestos in high amounts at military shipyards.
Military Training Facilities
Asbestos was frequently used in military training facilities across the country, as it was an inexpensive and durable construction material. At training facilities, asbestos-containing materials were likely used in all construction aspects, including walls, flooring, ceilings, insulation, and pipework. As previously discussed, when these asbestos materials are physically disturbed in any way, asbestos fibers are released into the air.
At training facilities, military training exercises likely caused significant disruptions to these asbestos materials, as training exercises involve high levels of movement by soldiers. Movement, in turn, causes changes in airflow, vibrations, and other physical disturbances that would have caused asbestos fibers to be released into the air. Accordingly, many soldiers may have been exposed to asbestos at military training facilities.
Secondhand Exposure to Asbestos
In addition to active service members, many families and loved ones of service members may have been exposed to asbestos by a secondhand exposure. On many military bases, family members also reside on base, which may have schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and other facilities for families to use.
As previously discussed, asbestos fibers become airborne and then latch onto any surface — including hair, skin, clothing, and durable surfaces. When asbestos fibers cling to a person, they can be carried and transported by that person’s movement. Because asbestos toxicity was not known, people who worked with asbestos-containing materials were not aware that they needed to decontaminate before leaving their worksite.
If a veteran was repeatedly exposed to asbestos during the work day, it is likely that the same veteran inadvertently carried asbestos fibers on their body back to their living quarters, thus exposing their family to the fibers. After an asbestos fiber detaches from a surface and becomes airborne, it can then be inhaled by anyone in its proximity – including spouses, children, and other family members. Victims of these types of secondary exposure to asbestos may be entitled to receive compensation in the same manner as victims with a primary asbestos exposure.
Compensation for Military Mesothelioma Victims
No matter the nature of a veteran or family member’s exposure to asbestos, the fact remains that the exposure never should have occurred. Even though the military was unaware of the toxicity of asbestos, manufacturers allowed asbestos to be produced and marketed in spite of its danger. In light of that injustice, victims who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions now have options for pursuing compensation for their injuries.
Mesothelioma is a life-changing illness that has devastating effects on veterans and their families. We understand that reality, and we also understand that no amount of money can make up for that harm. However, when the law entitles a person to receive compensation for their injuries, they should seek that compensation. A variety of programs, initiatives, and compensation sources exist for mesothelioma-affected veterans, including programs from the VA, legal actions against asbestos manufacturers, and other assistance programs.
Contact a Mesothelioma Attorney Today
The first step in seeking compensation for a mesothelioma diagnosis is to contact an attorney who can assist you. The number of programs available can be overwhelming, and determining whether you are eligible can be a difficult process. After determining your eligibility, applying for and accessing compensation can be an even more difficult process. An experienced and competent mesothelioma attorney can assist you with each of these steps and guide you along the way.
Our team is ready to assist you and your family in assessing your eligibility for mesothelioma compensation. If we are able, we will assist you in obtaining any compensation to which you may be entitled to receive. Contact us today to set up a no-risk, free consultation with a member of our dedicated veterans mesothelioma team.