What is Asbestos?
Asbestos, a carcinogenic (known to cause cancer) mineral, was initially discovered in rock and soil. This fibrous element was once prevalent in the construction of a wide range of manufactured goods, mainly due to its durability and heat-resistance.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made several steps towards banning the mineral in the United States. In 1989, there was a partial ban on the distribution, import, production, and processing of asbestos-containing materials. That same year, the EPA abolished new uses of asbestos to stifle production. Despite this, ships used by the U.S. Coast Guard were built with asbestos as recently as 1991. As of April 2019, the EPA passed the Final Rule, designed to ensure that banned products don’t return to market.
Asbestos Exposure in the Military
Veterans are at risk for exposure if they’ve worked in certain places or occupations during their time of service. Some of the higher risk military occupations were mining, milling, insulation, demolition, and construction. Those in the Navy are at the highest risk due to their labor in shipyards and engine rooms. Army vehicles, aircraft, and military barracks were also built with asbestos and pose a threat to veterans. Additionally, service members who’ve served in Iraq, and other countries around the Middle East and Southeast Asia, could’ve come into contact with the mineral when buildings were damaged and the fibers were expelled into the air.
Exposure in the Workplace
Between 1940 and 1979, approximately 27 million workers in the U.S. were exposed to aerosolized asbestos fibers, a much more substantial amount than today. This fact makes it much more likely that workers in the following occupations were exposed to the carcinogen. Veterans and civilians alike who worked in any of the following occupations are at risk of exposure:
- Auto mechanics
- Building inspectors
- Construction and demolition workers
- Furnace workers
- Maintenance workers
- Operating engineers
- Refinery workers
- Sheet metal workers
- Shipyard workers
A veteran who’s worked in these occupations should pay a visit to a doctor to assess the likelihood of exposure and development of a related illness. The earlier the diagnosis, the more there is a chance for successful treatment.
Where is Asbestos Found in the Environment?
Asbestos is a mineral found in rock and soil, but there are other places where it can be found in the environment. Not only does the mineral occur naturally in certain types of rock, but usage of the carcinogen has caused it to release fibers into the air and disperse throughout soils in the area. The following are at risk for contamination:
Air and Dust
The production, wear, and disposal of materials containing asbestos will cause the fibers to expel into the air, creating the risk of exposure by inhalation. Mining and milling around asbestos, as well as the natural weathering of asbestos-bearing rock, can also cause the fibers to be expelled into the air and settled dust nearby.
Fibers can be spread to water through erosion of natural land sources, abandoned mine and mill tailings, cement pipe containing the mineral, and disintegration of other asbestos-containing elements transported by rainwater.
A naturally-occurring mineral composed of shiny flakes, vermiculite is light-weight and also fire-resistant. Vermiculite itself does not cause illness, but 70 percent of all vermiculite handled in the United States from 1919 until 1990 was contaminated by asbestos, making the mineral a considerable risk. Vermiculite has been used in several easily-accessible products, including wall insulation.
Products Containing Asbestos
Due to exuberant use of asbestos in a wide variety of products, especially before 1975, it’s been found in homes, schools, and even vehicles. Veterans working with or around any of the following materials may be at risk:
- Boilers and heating vessels
- Cement pipe
- Clutch, brake, and transmission components
- Coatings and sealants
- Curtains and textiles
- Electrical wire conduits
- Electric motor parts
- Heat-protective pads
- Insulation products
- Laboratory equipment
- Paper items
- Roofing materials
Some materials are still being used today, these are:
- Automobile clutches
- Brake pads
- Imported cement pipe
- Roofing materials
- Vinyl tile
As long as asbestos remains undisturbed, there’s much less risk for inhalation or ingestion, as the fibers need to become airborne for this to happen. If automobiles, homes, or school structures undergo repairs, remodeling, construction, or demolition, those involved or nearby are at a much more substantial risk of exposure.
If asbestos is inhaled or ingested, the fibers will stay lodged in lung tissue for several years, causing scarring and inflammation. This activity can lead to several types of asbestos-related illnesses and diseases. Some conditions include:
This illness occurs when extensive asbestos exposure causes scarring of the lung tissue.
Uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs.
Cancer that develops in a thin layer of tissue that covers most of your mesothelium, or internal organs.
A condition that occurs when there’s an excessive fluid buildup between the layers of tissue around the lungs and chest cavity.
When there is prolonged exposure to asbestos, sometimes there’s a buildup of chalky material in the pleura.
Asbestos usage has gone down significantly, but not entirely. The EPA’s made steps towards eliminating the carcinogen, but there’s still a ways to go because asbestos is still found in various capacities. If you’ve worked or frequented these asbestos-products or occupations, it could be a good idea to pay a visit to your doctor, as early detection goes a long way.
You don’t have to go through this alone. If you or a fellow veteran or loved one was diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-disease due to exposure during time of service, you could be entitled to compensation. Learn more about VA benefits and other legal compensation options for veterans and their families.