Mesothelioma & Navy Veterans
Nowhere in the military during the 20th century was the demand for the miraculous, fire-proofing properties of asbestos greater than in the United States Navy. And nowhere has the onslaught of mesothelioma, the cancer with the long latency period, hit harder than among U.S. Navy veterans.
The connection to asbestos exposure is indisputable. Although the surgeon general of the U.S. Navy, in his annual report in 1939, discussed the "Hazards of Asbestosis," at the New York Navy Yard, his concerns then were ignored by those in command. And despite emerging evidence of long-term health problems caused by asbestos, it was lost amid the growing thirst to find an affordable and effective way to insulate and protect the ships and submarines that were being built for many years. Both the war efforts - World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War - and peace-keeping duties around the world, always took precedent.
Now it has become important for veterans to understand how asbestos exposure could have happened during their service. If you were at risk of exposure, symptoms can take decades to surface and typically won't arise until a disease has progressed to an advanced stage. This stresses the importance of obtaining regular medical exams to check for signs of a developing asbestos-related disease. Thankfully, there are free resources available to Navy veterans, such as the Veterans Assistance Program here at the Mesothelioma Center. Through this program, veterans can learn more about how they may have been exposed and receive assistance with filing a VA claim.
Asbestos Exposure Among Navy Veterans
Navy veterans still are paying the price today. The Navy finally stopped filling ships with asbestos in the early '70s, but those vessels remained in use for many years after the production stopped. Mesothelioma symptoms often don't appear until 20 to 50 years after the initial exposure.
Prior to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulating the use of asbestos, ship builders were using it in hundreds of applications. Engine rooms, boiler rooms, weapons and ammunition storage rooms - anywhere that needed heat resistance - all had asbestos. It was in the mess halls, the sleeping quarters and navigation rooms, too. Products like cables, gaskets and valves had asbestos. It covered the pipes, the pumps, the motors, the condensers and compressors that helped run a ship. It was even in the walls (insulation) and on the floors (asbestos flooring).
The construction, demolition, repair or renovation of ships - or even naval buildings on land - exposed Navy personnel to the microscopic asbestos fibers that quietly were inhaled. As ships aged, asbestos became brittle. Any disturbance, especially in the close quarters of ships and submarines, would send fibers airborne.
Fast Fact: No fewer than 20 Navy ratings are considered at-risk for asbestos exposure. Boilermakers, Boiler Tenders and Boiler Technicians were three of the highest-risk ratings.
Sailors aboard warships often would recall sleeping in bunks that were below asbestos-covered pipes, shaking off dusty material on a daily basis. The marines that often were transported on the same ships were exposed, too. Personnel who worked below deck on ships were at the highest risk because of where the most heat-resistant asbestos was used, nearest the engine and boiler rooms.
The Navy's decision to rely heavily on asbestos-laced products went well beyond its use on the water. A residential subdivision near in Klamath County, Oregon, which was once the site of a Navy base and barracks that were built at the end of World War II, was cited by the EPA early in 2011 for asbestos contamination. The contamination was due to the demolition of the barracks and improper disposal of asbestos more than a decade before.
The shipyards, where the civilians worked in construction, also have been hit hard with cases of mesothelioma. Even into the '90s, the Navy was selling off many of the older ships for scrap materials, usually to ports where the workers were not properly trained to handle asbestos, resulting in more needless exposure.
Free Resources for Veterans
The Mesothelioma Center's Veterans Assistance Department is available to provide free assistance and can help with your Navy veteran assistance claim. Our veterans benefit counselors are extremely knowledgeable and are a valuable resource that can answer your questions and alleviate any confusion. For guidance and additional information, please fill out the form on this page.