Asbestos in the Military

Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, has been prized across the world for centuries due to its durability and heat resistance. With the rise of World War I, the need for it grew, and the fibrous mineral was incorporated into textiles, insulation, and building materials for the military. Today, the negative effects of asbestos are better known, and veterans are one of the groups most susceptible to developing mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma Vets - Asbestos in the Military

History of Asbestos Use in the Military

Asbestos was used as early as 2500 B.C.E. to strengthen clay pottery in Finland. Other civilizations around the world have also used asbestos throughout time. With the turn of the 19th century, however, asbestos was incorporated into modern industries. This led the U.S. military to do the same. Asbestos’s durability, flexibility, and heat resistance made it the answer to everything the military needed. It was used in textiles, insulation, concrete, and steel to build the bases the U.S. needed.

Leading up to World War II, asbestos became more of a necessity. Demand grew, and by 1910, the U.S. was purchasing 43 percent of the 109,000 metric tons of the world’s asbestos. This was due, in large part, to a development that made the mass production of asbestos-cement easy and inexpensive.

Asbestos seemed like the perfect solution to both keep up with wartime demand and postwar rebuilding. It continued to be used after WWII and was incorporated in most military bases and equipment. Demand would peak in the 1970s, despite a conclusive connection between asbestos exposure and cancer in the 1960s.

Where Is Asbestos?

Asbestos wasn’t just used in the concrete and steel used to construct military bases but in commercial and industrial products that were supplied to the military. Products like boilers, parts for different vehicles, and sealants were made with asbestos as a way to make them extra durable. While manufacturers began phasing the material out of new products made in the 1980s and later, there were no requirements to remove the existing asbestos. This means that soldiers today, especially those with certain occupations, are still at risk of exposure in older bases.

Every military branch used asbestos for decades. While certain branches were at greater risk for exposure, like the Navy, all veterans today are in danger of developing asbestos-related diseases. This is due to asbestos being used everywhere from paint to planes. Its high level of fire retardant meant that the military could create “safer” environments. Even today, despite the known risks, many hold asbestos in high regard and believe that the military and the rest of the country wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for the carcinogen.

Where Was Asbestos Used in the Military?

At one time, asbestos was used in over 3,000 products. Within any given base, asbestos could be found in:

  • Paper products
  • Cement panels and pipes
  • Brake pads
  • Insulation
  • Corrugated sheeting
  • Roofing materials and shingles
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Boilers
  • Corrosive chemical containers
  • Heat-protective pads
  • Laboratory furniture
  • Pipe coverings
  • Sealants and caulking
  • Textiles and heat-resistant fabrics
  • Paint
  • Patching compounds

Many of these asbestos-laden items are still around today, making them an ever-present hazard for men and women serving in the military. The danger is heightened for roles like construction or plumbing that have to maintain and repair buildings and equipment.

The Dangers of Asbestos Exposure to Veterans

Today, the dangers of asbestos are well known. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Toxicology Program (NTP), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) all recognize asbestos and similar minerals as carcinogens. Unfortunately, given the long latency period for asbestos-related diseases, veterans who haven’t actively served in decades are still being diagnosed with diseases like mesothelioma today.

Veterans and Mesothelioma

There are only 3,300 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed every year. One-third of these cases are veterans. This is because of how many serving men and women lived and worked in areas heavily polluted with asbestos. In instances where the asbestos fibers have been disturbed, the microscopic barbs can easily be breathed in. They settle in the mesothelium, the protective layer around organs in the chest and abdomen, and create friction. These thorn-like fibers can then create scars that can grow and develop cancerous cells.

Exposure to asbestos has been linked to three prominent forms of mesothelioma: pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, and pericardial mesothelioma.

The most common form, pleural mesothelioma, affects the pleural lining of the lungs. This is the easiest area for asbestos fibers to reach. It is rarer for the microscopic fibers to make their way to the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), or the heart (pericardial mesothelioma).

Other Asbestos-Related Diseases Veterans May Suffer From

Despite how rare mesothelioma is, it is the best-known disease that results from asbestos. However, it is far from the only one. The group of carcinogens has been known to cause a number of cancers, mostly from inhaling friable (easily crumbled) fibers. Today, clear links have been established between the carcinogens and different cancers, like:

  • Lung cancer
  • Larynx cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

While there is less evidence, it is also suspected that asbestos is tied to some forms of:

  • Throat cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Rectal cancer

If you are a veteran and have been diagnosed with one of the above diseases, it is possible that you suffered prolonged exposure to asbestos. While this is unfortunate, there are still a growing number of therapies to try and compensation to be had.

What to Do After You’ve Been Exposed to Asbestos

Given the long latency period, it is impossible to know how or if exposure to asbestos will affect someone immediately. It could be 10 to 60 years before cancer develops after initial exposure. It is also unlikely for mesothelioma to develop from a one-time subjection. That is why veterans, many of which will be subjected to asbestos multiple times through their service, make up one-third of mesothelioma diagnoses.

If you or a loved one served in the United States military and believe you have the symptoms of mesothelioma or some other asbestos-related disease, you may be entitled to benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In cases where you are not (such as those who were dishonorably discharged), it is still possible to receive compensation through legal action. Receive a free case evaluation and discover your options.

Author: Cooper Smith – Last Edited: October 30, 2019