Military veterans overall comprise one-third of all mesothelioma cases because they were exposed to large amounts of asbestos between the years of 1930 and 1980.
History of Asbestos Use in the Army
Veterans of the Army are at risk because the Army lined most of its infrastructure with asbestos, known for its fireproofing properties.
Asbestos was used in insulation, plumbing, flooring and ceiling tiles, roofing materials, cement foundation, gaskets, clutch plates and brake pads. When damaged or degraded, asbestos was often released into the air. Airborne asbestos fibers could be breathed in and become lodged in the lining of the lungs, where it could later cause cancer. The materials could also become caught on clothing, hair, or the skin, and travel to a second location, where it could be inhaled by someone else later. Service members operating heavy artillery or weapons systems often wore gloves and suits laced with asbestos to prevent burns to their body.
The military didn’t recognize the health dangers posed by asbestos until the late-1970s. Since then, the Army has removed most of the products that were made from asbestos. Unfortunately, those exposed to asbestos during their time of service are at risk for developing mesothelioma later in life. Typically mesothelioma presents itself anywhere from 15 to 45+ years after exposure.
While most military members have not been exposed to asbestos since the late-1970s, the Army has a unique recent risk. Soldiers that served in the Iraq War may have been exposed to asbestos in Iraq, putting them at potential risk of developing mesothelioma. Nations in the Middle East still use asbestos in the construction of buildings and other infrastructure. When buildings were demolished or damaged during the war, asbestos was released into the air, putting U.S. soldiers at risk.
Between the 1930s and late-1970s, asbestos was used liberally by the Army. Barracks, transport vehicles, and other infrastructure all contained the hazardous material in an effort to promote heat resistance. Army bases were laden with asbestos, though much of the infrastructure containing the material has been removed or refitted since the 1970s.
“Several years ago, I was contacted by an Army Artilleryman with pleural mesothelioma. He was inquiring about any VA benefits for which he might be eligible. I explained that we could file for VA Disability, but at the time, he knew of no Army exposure, and we opted not to file the claim. However, several months later, he called me back and explained that his lawyer had managed to figure out that the gloves he wore while handling hot artillery shells for six years in the Army were actually made out of asbestos. We filed the claim and he was approved. So, never say never”. – Retired LCDR Carl Jewett
Army Jobs With Asbestos Exposure Risk
There were a variety of jobs where Army veterans could have been exposed to asbestos during their time of service. Here are some of the jobs where an Army veteran could have been exposed:
- Mechanical work
- Manufacturing or repair of vehicle parts such as brake linings
- Shipyard work
- Working on insulation
- Demolition work
- Construction work
- Installing military equipment
Where Soldiers Were Exposed To Asbestos
Soldiers were exposed to asbestos in a variety of different locations, and almost every building built by the military before the late-1970s contained asbestos. Asbestos could be found in insulation, pipes, ceiling and flooring tiles, and even doors, and as the infrastructure degraded, it became easier for asbestos to be released into the air. Here are some places where soldiers may have encountered asbestos:
- Barracks – Soldiers living in barracks may have come in contact with asbestos, since the material was used in construction materials when the barracks were built. Asbestos in barracks could be found in insulation, siding, electrical wiring, and ceiling and flooring tiles. Although most of the asbestos in military infrastructure has been replaced, it was impractical to get rid of all of the asbestos used. The product remains in some older barracks, though it is generally not a risk if it is not disturbed.
- Army Vehicles – Army vehicles that were built prior to the 1970s contained asbestos. Virtually all vehicles had some form of the hazardous material—from ambulances and buses to tanks. Asbestos was used in gaskets, clutches, brake pads, and heating systems in order to promote heat resistance and to fireproof the infrastructure. When exposed to heat, vehicle components could expand, which caused damage to the vehicle. Asbestos use reduced that risk.
- Construction Work – Soldiers that worked on construction projects, had a higher risk of asbestos exposure. Army veterans involved in building, remodeling, and repairing barracks that were lined with asbestos, are at risk for asbestos exposure. Disturbing the asbestos materials during construction put them at risk for inhalation. When the Army decided to remove most of the branch’s asbestos products after the 1970s, the Army Corps of Engineers handled the removal project.