It is well known that Navy ships built prior to 1980 contain significant amounts of asbestos-containing materials that were used in areas such as boiler rooms, pump rooms, and turrets. In addition to those who were exposed while serving in the Navy, many workers were exposed while building these ships and more are being exposed today as the same ships are being demolished.
Roughly one third of mesothelioma patients were exposed to asbestos while serving in the Navy or working in the shipbuilding industry. The Navy is faced with the highest rate of asbestos exposure of all military branches, and shipyard workers face the highest rate of occupational exposure across all trades.
Nonetheless, asbestos was used in other branches of the military. In the Army, vehicles such as tanks and jeeps have been known to contain asbestos gaskets, brakes and clutch discs. The fighter jets and cargo planes used by the Air Force are known to have been built with asbestos material in areas such as firewalls, electrical, valves and insulation, as well as engine parts. Marines were put at risk of exposure by the above-mentioned vehicles, which they often used as transportation.
While the military began to phase out asbestos use in the 1970s, the possibility of exposure still exists today as a result of its widespread use in the past. We still see asbestos in civilian areas, such as in products used in the construction of military housing before 1980, including floor tiles, insulation, HVAC systems, and many other products that now require removal or repairs.
Veterans who served in WWII through 1980 are thought to be at high risk of having been exposed to asbestos. Unfortunately, with these exposures comes the risk of developing mesothelioma. There is a 20 to 50 year latency period between time of exposure and development of mesothelioma, meaning those who were exposed decades ago are being diagnosed today.
At the Meso Foundation, our work on behalf of veterans affected by mesothelioma today, and those who will develop mesothelioma in the future, spans throughout the year. Visit curemeso.org/asbestos to learn more about our prevention program.