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Asbestos on Army Bases

Quick Summary

Veterans, family members, and those working on Army bases may have commonly encountered asbestos in old buildings and vehicles as late as 1980.

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Asbestos and Army Bases Explained

Asbestos is a cancer-causing mineral that was widely used on Army bases across the world. From the 1930s to the late 1970s, the U.S. Army used asbestos in barracks, vehicles, and weapons systems because it was a cheap and effective insulator and fire-retardant.

Asbestos is an excellent insulator and fireproofing material, but it is an extremely dangerous substance that causes many to develop mesothelioma.

The risks of asbestos weren’t known to the public until around 1980, which is when the Army began implementing regulations to restrict the use of asbestos products. Anyone who lived on an Army base before 1980 may have been exposed to asbestos.

When exposed to asbestos, a person may develop mesothelioma but it will often take up to 50 years for the disease to develop. Every year, veterans and their family members are still being diagnosed with diseases caused by asbestos exposure during their service.

Even exposure to a tiny amount of asbestos can be deadly.

According to the EPA, “Up to date, no safe level of asbestos exposure has been determined, and it is generally assumed that ‘zero’ exposure is the level most protective of human health. Because of the small size of asbestos fibers, it is possible for the smallest to remain airborne for weeks.”

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Notable Bases

Army bases aren’t simply a place for military operations. Each base is a community, and some are large enough to be considered cities in their own right. Base life consists of families, stores, schools as well as day-to-day Army functions. The largest military bases even employ thousands of civilians.

Learn more about some of the largest Army bases in the United States below.

Fort Bragg

Built in 1918, this installation has the largest population of any Army base with over 230,000 people. Over 50,000 are active-duty soldiers.

It’s located in North Carolina and is home to the 82nd Airborne Division. Fort Bragg is home to 8 elementary schools and a junior and senior high school.

Fort Bragg was essential to developing airborne troop tactics that helped win WWII. The base was also critical for operations during the Cold War and the Middle East wars. Pope Field, located on Fort Bragg, is one of the largest training centers for paratroopers in the U.S.

Fort Campbell

This Army installation is situated directly on the border of Tennessee and Kentucky between Clarksville and Hopkinsville. This is another base renowned for its paratrooper division.

Fort Campbell is home to the U.S. Army Dental Corps, the 5th Special Forces, the Tennessee Valley Corps of Engineers and the famous 101st Airborne, the Screaming Eagles. The base’s construction was finished in 1942 just as WWII was ramping up. In fact, the Army finished surveying the land for this base 1 month before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

This base has the 5th largest military population in the Army.

Fort Hood

Located in Texas, this is the Army’s largest active-duty installation. The base can support 2 fully armored divisions. It was constructed in 1942 as a home for tank destroyers.

Texas was the ideal location to test the anti-tank weapons because of its huge landmass. The base is situated north of Austin and south of Waco. It’s at least 50 miles out from the nearest large city.

Now Fort Hood serves as a place to mobilize National Guard and reserve troops. There are multiple children and elderly care divisions located on the base. It also has a population of more than 13,000 civilian employees and contractors.

Fort Benning

Built approximately 100 years ago, Fort Benning is located on the border of Alabama and Georgia. It’s part of the “tri-community” area of Fort Benning, Phenix City and Columbus, Georgia’s second-largest city. This Army base is the home to some of the most well-trained infantry in the world.

It was home to nearly 100,000 soldiers, including officers and enlisted men, during WWII. Now, there are just over 27,000 active duty personnel on base, and it is one of the main locations where soldiers attend basic training and home to thousands of families.

The base even has its own renowned schooling system for military children up to grade 8.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Located near Tacoma, Washington, this installation is a joint effort of the Army and Air Forces. Fort Lewis dates back to 1917 while the McChord airfield was established in 1930. However, the bases weren’t merged until 2010.

As a joint base, it’s one of the largest in the U.S. military with over 50,000 family members, 27,000 military members, 10,000 civilians, and over 100,000 retirees. Its location in the Pacific Northwest is a strategic benefit for deployment and humanitarian efforts.

Most of the population of Lewis-McChord is located in Fort Lewis with only several thousand living on McChord Field.

Other Notable Bases

The list above consists of some of the most well-known Army bases because they are located on U.S. soil. However, there are thousands of soldiers stationed at forts and joint bases around the world.

No matter where the Army base is located, asbestos may be a risk if the installations were built prior to 1980. Asbestos was definitely a risk prior to military regulations on the substance.

Other countries that are home to U.S. Army bases include:

  • Japan (84 bases)
  • Germany (38)
  • Italy (3)
  • Israel
  • Kosovo
  • Kuwait
  • South Korea

Asbestos Exposure Risks on Base

The bases listed above, like Fort Bragg, are old.

Fort Bragg is home to some historical buildings like the Grey Whale Inn dating back to 1915 or the Guest House Museum built in 1892, and construction of new buildings continued right through the age of asbestos.

Older buildings, specifically those built between 1930 and 1980, pose the greatest asbestos exposure risks. This is true of any building on any Army base.

People most at risk of asbestos exposure on base include:

Even though the Army took major efforts to remove asbestos on its bases, it can still be found on many bases, and there may still be a small risk of exposure.

In fact, the Army has issued warning statements for asbestos on bases as late as 2010.

One memo stated that “the Army recently experienced a potential soldier exposure to asbestos while executing a self-help renovation/demolition operation conducted in a barracks. Because DOD facilities continue to contain asbestos products, Soldiers and civilians must be informed of asbestos hazards and proper handling and management requirements.”

Secondhand Exposure Among Family Members

Millions of family members have lived on Army bases. Those living in Army installations may have had asbestos exposure if there happened to be a renovation project while stationed there.

Family members may have also had secondhand exposure to asbestos on a soldier’s clothing. For example, an Army mechanic covered in brake dust containing asbestos could have exposed family unknowingly.

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Help for Army Veterans

Regardless of your job in the Army or the base on which you were stationed, there is help for your asbestos illness.

Veterans with mesothelioma receive the maximum compensation for disability benefits if they’re eligible. There are also VA health care options and benefits for family members.

To qualify for VA benefits you must:

  • Have been honorably discharged
  • Have an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma
  • Prove that your disease is connected to time in the Army

Some veterans are also eligible for VA benefits based on income.

Our VA-accredited Claims Agents can work with you to discuss which benefits you may receive. Our representatives can also help you prove that you were exposed to asbestos in the Army.

Talk to a member of our team today.

Veterans Support Team
Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG) PhotoReviewed by:Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG)

VA-Accredited Attorney

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG) is an attorney, a former Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, and a legal advisor at the Mesothelioma Veterans Center. Today, Eric continues to serve as a Captain in the Rhode Island Air National Guard where he is Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, upholding his dedication to his country and fellow veterans. Eric considers it his duty to help his veteran family and strives to help them navigate the VA and receive the benefits they so bravely earned.

Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

View 5 Sources
  1. Environmental Management System. “Asbestos Containing Material (ACM).” Environmental Management Division (EMD), Bismarck Kaserne; Bldg. 5843 B. 2012. Accessed on January 7, 2018. Retrieved from: http://www.ansbach.army.mil/documents/EMDAsbestosHandout.pdf
  2. Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed on January 7, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-06/documents/army_reserve_centers_closed_under_brac_05.pdf
  3. Fort Bragg. Historical Buildings. Accessed on January 7, 2018. Retrieved from: http://www.fortbragg.com/history/historical-buildings/
  4. Military Installations. U.S. Department of Defense. Accessed on January 7, 2018. Retrieved from: http://www.militaryinstallations.dod.mil/
  5. U.S. Army. Accessed on January 7, 2018. Retrieved from: https://safety.army.mil/Portals/0/Documents/ON-DUTY/WORKPLACE/ASBESTOS/Standard/Secretary_of_Army_Safety_Message_on_Asbestos_Awareness.pdf
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