Military Asbestos Use

Of all of the tens of thousands of asbestos related disease diagnoses made over the last fifty years in the United States, thirty percent of them have been for patients who are United States veterans. Despite the huge and dangerous application of asbestos products in American industry, an inordinate number of the cases that have been correctly diagnosed as mesothelioma, asbestosis or asbestos lung cancer have been illnesses that were germinated during military service.

Modern History of Asbestos Diseases

It’s important to understand that for several decades, the only organizations that had definitive evidence of the health damage associated with asbestos were asbestos companies that mined the mineral or manufactured products from it. Mesothelioma, the lethal form of malignant cancer caused by asbestos fibers in the body, is a relatively rare condition that was consistently misdiagnosed prior to 1970. Asbestosis was often diagnosed as emphysema, while asbestos induced lung cancer was attributed to smoking or some other cause.

The other factor that applies with asbestos diseases is that they take decades after the asbestos occurs to manifest as active diseases. For all of these reasons, our history of asbestos related diseases is vastly incomplete except for the last few decades. The United States did not begin to track mesothelioma diagnoses on a national basis until 1999.

Asbestos Use in Military Facilities

America’s entry into World War II coincided with a rapidly accelerating use of asbestos products in construction. When the United States found itself in the position of needing to build an army from scratch and rebuild a Navy that had suffered enormous damage at Pearl Harbor, the country went into the construction business. Hundreds of structures were put up at new Army and Navy training facilities, shipyards were expanded, and air training facilities for Army, Navy and Marine pilots were thrown up alongside airstrips.

Those facilities used asbestos roofing sealant, shingles, roofing paper, floor tiles, sheeted flooring, siding, insulation, joint compound, adhesives, and insulation for every heating system that used hot water. Those heating systems had insulated boilers, furnaces, and pipes running throughout the buildings. Where those materials were exposed to wear, they quickly began to fray.

Those barracks, shops and training camps have been used for every war fought since World War II and it was not until sometime in the 1980s that the military began a concentrated effort to remove asbestos products from the buildings on Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine bases.

Asbestos Use in Ships and Planes

It is generally acknowledged that the use of asbestos on warships was at its peak during World War II; it is also well known that World War II and Korean War veterans who served on those ships were at high risk for eventually developing mesothelioma or asbestosis. The same was true, although fewer servicemen were exposed, in the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. Asbestos was used to insulate boilers, fireboxes, engine rooms, pipe systems, valves, pumps, and for the gaskets and seals needed to make those valves and pumps operate.

Aircraft engines built during World War II and thereafter through the 1970s used asbestos brake shoes that were replaced frequently, and asbestos gaskets in the engines and carburetion systems. Any fire retardant materials on those aircraft included asbestos fibers. Asbestos was also often a component of the seals that surrounded the doors and hatches found on military aircraft and naval vessels.

Asbestos Use in Infantry Equipment

Among the most frequent examples of asbestos exposure seen in Army veterans has been from maintenance work in the motor pools where fuel and water pumps were rebuilt, engines refurbished, and brakes replaced. All military vehicles – all vehicles of any type built through 1960 – had wiring with asbestos coating as did many of the hoses under the hood. Some military vehicles, especially those constructed in the aftermath of World War II, had asbestos insulation in various places depending on the type of vehicle. Armored vehicles that carried ammunition might have asbestos insulation included as fire retardant material.

Legal Rights for Military Veterans Exposed to Asbestos

Since asbestos was declared a carcinogen in the 1970s there have been over 800,000 lawsuits filed against asbestos companies. The history of asbestos use in military facilities and equipment has crossed several generations of veterans, thousands of whom have filed a legal action due to the development of an asbestos related disease.

If you are a veteran who has developed mesothelioma, asbestosis or asbestos lung cancer there is a good chance that your asbestos exposure occurred in the military, regardless of the decade in which you served. Contact our law offices today for a review of your case, which our attorney will provide in complete confidence and free of charge.

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