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 servicemember were ever around damaged or demolished structures in the Middle East or Southeast Asia, you were likely exposed to asbestos. Shipyards, vehicle repair, and construction zones are also areas where a person can come into contact with the cancer-causing material.
Indirect Asbestos Exposure
If a veteran experiences asbestos exposure in the workplace or home, it’s referred to as primary exposure. Indirect (or secondary) exposure is much less prominent but also dangerous. Since asbestos is an easily-crumbled fiber, it can quickly become airborne if disturbed – making it much more harmful than its dormant state. When a soldier 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. Hugs and other physical contacts are the most common way. If the spouse of an asbestos worker does their laundry, fibers on the clothes can be inhaled or ingested. Additionally, soldiers can transfer fibers to furniture and other household items.
Who’s at Risk?
Anyone who comes into frequent contact with servicemembers who work around asbestos may be at risk for indirect exposure. This includes other veterans and servicemembers, spouses, children, additional close family members, and friends.
Veterans who were diagnosed with mesothelioma may be eligible for VA compensation. To find out if you qualify, speak with a patient advocate today.
What Are the Risks of Indirect Asbestos Exposure?
Secondary asbestos exposure poses the same risks as primary asbestos exposure (that is, the development of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illness). While rare, mesothelioma is the most common disease associated with asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, it takes several decades for these diseases to develop, making it much more difficult to detect in a timely matter. Some people were even exposed on base like in Fort Bragg, so being aware is key. Some other asbestos-related diseases include:
- Asbestosis – A condition that is caused by scarring of the lung tissue
- Lung cancer – The uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs
- Mesothelioma – Mesothelioma occurs when cancer develops in the tissue around the lungs, otherwise known as the mesothelium
- Pleural effusion – A fluid buildup in the pleura, or space between the lining of the lungs
- Pleural plaques – Occur when there is an accumulation of hyalinized (dying tissues and cells that have become clear, structureless) collagen fibers.
While exposure to asbestos can cause illness, several factors come into play which can affect each individual differently. Some include:
- Dose – The amount of asbestos an individual has been exposed to
- Duration – Amount of time a person was exposed
- Type – Size, shape, and chemical makeup of asbestos fibers
- Source – Where the exposure occurred
- Individual – A person’s overall health, whether they smoke or have other pre-existing lung conditions
Any exposure poses risk, but certain variations of the toxic 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 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 experience any of these symptoms for long periods of time, it is highly recommended that you visit a doctor to get a proper checkup and diagnosis. It is a lot easier to treat and survive mesothelioma at its earlier stages.
Veterans with mesothelioma can take action without affecting their benefits.
My Next Steps
If you, a fellow servicemember, 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 been exposed and what legal compensation options you could be entitled to.