Asbestos Exposure in the Military
Also a carcinogenic mineral, asbestos was once highly used in the construction of buildings and other products due to its fire-resistant properties. If you or a fellow service member were ever around damaged structures in the Middle East or Southeast Asia, it is likely you were exposed to the carcinogen. Shipyards, vehicle repair, and construction zones are also all areas where a person can come into contact with asbestos.
Indirect Asbestos Exposure
If a veteran experiences asbestos exposure in the workplace or environment, it’s referred to as primary exposure. Indirect, or secondary exposure is much less prominent but also dangerous. Since asbestos is a fibrous material, it can quickly become airborne if disturbed, making it much more harmful than its dormant state. When an asbestos-worker comes home and fibers are on their skin, hair, or clothes, those fibers can be transferred to the people they come into contact with. This is known as indirect or secondary exposure.
Any form of contact can transfer asbestos fibers to another person, with hugs and other physical contact being the most common way. If the spouse of an asbestos worker does their laundry, fibers on clothes can be disturbed, making it much easier to inhale or ingest. Additionally, asbestos-workers can transfer fibers to furniture and other household items.
Who’s At Risk?
Anyone who comes into frequent contact with service members who may have asbestos fibers on their person may be at risk for indirect asbestos exposure. This includes other veterans and service members, spouses, children, additional close family members, and friends.
What Are the Risks of Secondary Asbestos Exposure?
Indirect asbestos exposure poses the same risks as primary asbestos exposure, which is the development of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illness. While rare, mesothelioma is the most common disease associated with asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, it does take a person several decades for these diseases to develop, making it that much more difficult to detect in a timely matter. Some other asbestos-related diseases include:
A condition that is caused by scarring of the lung tissue
The uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs
Mesothelioma occurs when cancer develops in the tissue around the lungs, otherwise known as the mesothelium
A fluid buildup in the pleura, or space between the lining of the lungs
This occurs when there is an accumulation of hyalinized (degenerated tissues and cells that have become clear, structureless and homogeneous) collagen fibers.
While exposure to asbestos can cause illness, several factors come into play which can significantly affect each individual differently. Some factors that affect the risk of developing an asbestos-disease include:
The amount of asbestos an individual has been exposed to
Amount of time a person was exposed
Size, shape, and chemical makeup of asbestos fibers
Where the exposure occurred
A person’s overall health, whether they smoke or have other pre-existing lung conditions
Any asbestos exposure poses risk, but certain variations of the mineral are more dangerous than others. For instance, amphibole is more harmful to a person than chrysotile because it tends to remain in the lungs for longer.
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the disease, affecting the lining between the lungs, also known as the mesothelium. The symptoms associated with pleural mesothelioma aren’t exclusive to the condition, so it can be helpful to get a second opinion if you receive a positive mesothelioma diagnosis. Sometimes less-experienced oncologists can mistake the symptoms for other diseases or illnesses, such as lung cancer and COPD. Some pleural mesothelioma symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Odd lumps of tissue under the skin on your chest
- Severe coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained weight loss
If you chronically experience any of these symptoms, it’s highly recommended that you visit a doctor to get a proper checkup and diagnosis. It’s a lot easier to treat and survive mesothelioma at the earlier stages.
My Next Steps
If you, a fellow service member, or loved one believe you were exposed to asbestos, you don’t have to go through it alone. Learn more about where veterans could’ve gotten exposed to asbestos and what legal compensation options you could be entitled to.