Army, Navy, Air Force Marines, Merchant Marine, Coast Guard – all branches of the United States military that proudly serve our country. Regardless of where, when, and how they’ve served, the men and women of our military deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. Unfortunately, in addition to earning our respect, the work that many of them did also may have earned them a life sentence of mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer that arises from exposure to asbestos.
Every branch of the American military that served between the 1940s and 1970s utilized asbestos in a variety of applications – the material provides excellent insulation and is heat and fire resistant, so it was thought to be benefitting and protecting the troops. The higher-ups who mandated the use of asbestos did so with the best of intentions, but because the troops ate and slept and worked in close quarters with asbestos and products that contained asbestos, they account for nearly one third of all of the mesothelioma cases being diagnosed today.
Though every branch of the military that served during the critical years between World War II and the Vietnam War had high risk of exposure to asbestos, none worked so closely or spent so much time around asbestos as those who were in the Navy. The ships commissioned by the Navy prior to 1970s had asbestos throughout – not only was the ship insulated with asbestos, but every pipe was coated with it, and the boiler technicians and machine operators often wore clothing that was made with asbestos in order to provide them with extra protection. Considering how little exposure to asbestos is required for mesothelioma to take hold inside the body, it is not surprising in afterthought that the Navy men and women are so terribly afflicted by this disease.
Since it became widely known that asbestos was so dangerous, the United States military has not only stopped utilizing the material, but has gone to great lengths to refit those ships and buildings where asbestos is clearly a danger. Many of the ships where so many Navy personnel were exposed to asbestos have been decommissioned, and those that haven’t often have teams on board who are specially trained in asbestos removal should it become evident that there is a need due to material breaking down. Those who served in the military during the critical years between 1940 and the 1970s are well advised to let their physicians and an experienced lawyer know that they served so that they can watch for the early signs of this devastating illness.