Navy Veterans and Mesothelioma

Although the use of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials was prevalent in the 20th century in all branches of the military, including the Army, Marines and Air Force, the Navy was the most at risk for exposure to the mineral. Navy veterans way outnumber any of the other branches in terms of the number of mesothelioma cases that have been reported. The connection between Navy personnel and asbestos exposure, as well as the subsequent development of mesothelioma, is virtually indisputable.

In 1939, the surgeon general of the U.S. Navy gave his annual health report at the New York Navy Yard. In this report, he discussed the hazards of asbestosis that was directly related to the exposure of human beings to asbestos. However, his warnings were ignored by Navy commanding officers. The country's growing need for an effective and affordable way to protect and insulate submarines, ships and war vessels clouded the emerging proof that asbestos caused long-term health problems for those exposed to it. What took precedent over the evidence and the surgeon general's concerns were the primary wars of the time - World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

How Navy Veterans Were Exposed

Thousands of veterans have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer or other pulmonary diseases as a result of asbestos exposure. Up until the 1970s when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of asbestos for any construction or building purposes, ships were being constructed with asbestos-containing materials. Yet vessels that had used asbestos-containing materials were kept in operation even after the ban, which put many Navy personnel at risk.

Ship builders used asbestos and asbestos-containing materials in virtually hundreds of different applications. Asbestos is a versatile mineral that is heat and chemical-resistant and can take on any form. As such, ship builders constructed ships using asbestos in weapon and ammunition storage rooms, boiler rooms and engine rooms. Any area that had to be heat-resistant contained asbestos, including navigation rooms, sleeping quarters, mess halls and more. Asbestos was even used to cover and insulate various products and machinery such as compressors, motors, pumps, pipes, gaskets and valves. The floors and walls even contained asbestos. There were plenty of places and opportunities for Navy personnel to be exposed to asbestos and the deadly fibers it releases into the air.

Many veterans have come forward explaining that they slept in beds that were below pipes containing asbestos and would constantly have to shake off dust and powder. Anyone working below deck was at increased risk because of all the areas that needed to be insulated from high heat and fire. But the ships themselves were not the only areas that veterans could have been exposed. Many Navy bases, barracks and shipyards contained asbestos throughout the area. Improper demolition and disposal practices continue to affect military personnel as well as civilians.

Veterans and Mesothelioma Development

Since Navy veterans were put in situations where they would, with all likelihood, be exposed to asbestos, pulmonary diseases were eminent. When asbestos is untouched, it is fairly safe for humans to be exposed to. However, Navy personnel were always put in situations where the ships they were aboard were put under stress and often caught fire, which made the asbestos friable (easily breakable). Asbestos fibers that end up in the air are easily ingested or inhaled by anyone in the area. Those tiny, sharp fibers then enter the body and lodge themselves in the lining of vital organs such as the lungs and the abdomen. Symptoms for the disease often do not surface for decades after exposure, so early detection is sometimes difficult, especially because the symptoms are similar to more common diseases.

Ever since the number of Navy veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma became astounding, more research was made into the causes for the disease. The connection between the building practices of the military, as well as the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products, and mesothelioma development was made clear. Additionally, more research has been conducted to find out which ships, shipyards and specific bases used asbestos so that compensation for Navy veterans can be sought.

If you or someone you know served in the U.S. Navy or every worked on or near Navy ships, shipyards or bases, seek immediate medical assistance. Early detection of the disease can lead to an extended life expectancy and possible curative treatments. Even if symptoms have developed, there are still palliative treatments available that can help alleviate some of the pain and suffering.