How Were Veterans Exposed to Asbestos?

The military used asbestos for decades in a wide variety of ways. Although the Navy is the biggest offender, all branches used asbestos in some ways. Asbestos was common in military vehicles, buildings, and equipment.

A lawyer can help veterans receive compensation for mesothelioma. Lawyers will file a suit against asbestos manufacturers. Lawsuits are not filed against the armed forces. Veterans with mesothelioma are also eligible for VA benefits like disability compensation, survivor benefits and health care.

Choose a branch to learn more about asbestos use:

Navy Asbestos Use

Fire at sea is one of the most dangerous casualties that Navy sailors face. As such, insulation and fire protection materials are built into every part of the ship to prevent fires from spreading to other compartments. Unfortunately for many sailors and marines serving on these ships, the go-to products for this purpose were made of asbestos.

Asbestos provides protection from the spread of fire as it is an excellent thermal insulator, it does not burn, and is virtually indestructible. Therefore, it made perfect sense for the Navy to gravitate towards these products during most of its 20th century’s shipbuilding efforts. And because asbestos does not conduct heat, it was used extensively in boiler rooms and engine rooms to insulate steam pipes to prevent heat loss from the pipes carrying the ship’s steam loads. Any ship built before 1980 was full of asbestos insulation, gaskets, seals, fire barriers, and even in the floor tiles.

Asbestos use in ships was so prevalent that as many as 300 different asbestos containing products could be found on a single ship, amounting to several tons.

For sailors stationed on these ships, the risk of exposure to the dangerous asbestos fibers in these products was daily. While sailors working in the engine room had the greatest risk of exposure because they routinely worked with asbestos products, everyone on the ship was at risk. In fact, many of the bunk rooms onboard a ship would have asbestos insulated pipes running through them, meaning that exposure could even occur in the comfort of your own rack.

Some of the Navy specialties that are most at risk for asbestos exposure are:

  • Boilermen/Boiler tenders/Water tenders
  • Machinist mates
  • Enginemen
  • Hull technicians/Welders
  • Pipefitters/Steamfitters/Shipfitters
  • Steelworkers
  • Machinery repairmen
  • Electricians mates
  • Ship builders
  • Firemen
  • Seabees
  • Damage controlmen
  • Boatswains mates
  • Storekeepers/Supply men
  • Aviation machinist mates
  • Aviation boatswains mates
  • Aviation electricians

Many sailors also spent time in shipyards going through new construction, overhaul or decommissioning. Because of the very industrial nature of the shipyard environment, anyone stationed onboard a ship in a shipyard was at an increased risk of exposure regardless of their Navy rating or where they normally worked onboard the ship. Asbestos dust created during shipyard work can go airborne, and travel throughout the ship on clothing, exposing everyone onboard to the dangerous asbestos fibers.

Army Asbestos Use

Prior to the 1970s, asbestos was used to build most Army barracks and other buildings. Asbestos was useful in construction materials for insulating and fireproofing. Even though the Army stopped using asbestos eventually, it remained in the buildings with the potential to expose future soldiers.

Asbestos was also used in Army vehicles and aircraft because of its heat resistance properties. Combat and support vehicles often had asbestos parts such as brake pads/linings, clutches, gaskets, and heating systems. Aircraft were built with similar asbestos parts including firewalls, gaskets, and heating systems.

The Army Corps of Engineers constructs important infrastructure. Anyone working in construction when the Army was using asbestos is at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

High-risk army occupations:

  • Construction workers
  • Engineers
  • Mechanics
  • Plumbers
  • Firefighters
  • Electricians

Air Force Asbestos Use

The Air Force used asbestos in many of its aircraft and other vehicles. Mechanics who worked on these vehicles have a higher risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos was commonly used in:

  • Brake pads
  • Gaskets
  • Engine firewalls
  • Wiring
  • Valves
  • Repair adhesives

Asbestos was also commonly used in building materials. Many Air Force barracks and other buildings were constructed using asbestos products. If these buildings have not been remediated, they may still have asbestos in them now.

Marine Corps Asbestos Use

The Marine Corps used asbestos for many different vehicles because they work on land, at sea, and in the air. Asbestos was also used to construct many Marine Corps buildings. Mechanics who worked on the vehicles and construction workers who worked on buildings are the most at risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

Common Locations for Asbestos Products:

  • Aircraft: Engine gaskets, brake pads, insulation, and more parts for aircraft were made with asbestos.
  • Navy Ships: Marines are sometimes deployed on Navy ships. Navy ships are full of asbestos lined pipes, valves, bulkheads, doors and even berthing spaces.
  • Tanks: Asbestos was used to insulate tanks and their heating systems and firewalls. Gunners in tanks sometimes used heat proof mittens woven with asbestos to handle hot machine gun barrels and artillery shells.
  • Motor Transport Vehicles: Transport vehicles, amphibious assault vehicles, and all-terrain vehicles were built with asbestos.
  • Barracks: Asbestos could be found in and around flooring tiles, ceiling tiles, roofing material, insulation, piping, and more materials used to build Marine barracks.

Coast Guard Asbestos Use

Asbestos was widely used on many military ships until the 1980s. Hundreds of different asbestos products were used in the U.S. military up to this time. Most of this asbestos could be found in ships and shipyards.

Asbestos uses on Coast Guard ships include:

  • Insulation
  • Electrical wiring
  • Pipes
  • Pipefittings
  • Valves
  • Ropes
  • Deck coating
  • Flooring
  • Engine rooms
  • Boiler rooms

Coast Guard veterans who were stationed at the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard are at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. The Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard is a shipyard in Baltimore, Maryland. It is the only shipyard and repair center for the Coast Guard. This shipyard used asbestos extensively.