Veterans that served in the Marines between the years of 1930 and 1980 are at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure. The risk of asbestos exposure is higher for veterans because all branches of the military used asbestos material for its heat-resistant and fireproofing properties.
History of Asbestos Use in the Marines
The Marine’s use of asbestos was significant, and veterans of the Marine Corps were exposed to asbestos in aircraft, ships, and in transport vehicles. The Marines worked with the Navy on a regular basis, and the Navy’s risk of exposure to asbestos was the highest of all the military branches. The U.S. military didn’t stop using asbestos in their infrastructure until the late-1970s. Marines could have been exposed to asbestos in ships, shipyards, vehicles and barracks.
Marines working with Navy personnel on ships could have been exposed to asbestos in insulation, piping, deck flooring, ceiling tiles, and even in bulkheads. Anyone on the ship when asbestos was disturbed could breathe the material into their lungs. When disturbed, asbestos can remain airborne for hours, and anyone walking into the area can be exposed. Asbestos can also be carried to other areas, as it can settle onto someone’s skin, hair, or clothing. As that person travels around the ship, anyone they come in contact with can breathe in the hazardous materials, which can become lodged in their lungs.
Marines working on Naval ships were at a particularly high risk for asbestos exposure. Naval ships were known to have poor ventilation, allowing asbestos in the air to accumulate and circulate throughout tightly enclosed areas of the ship, such as a boiler room or engine room.
Asbestos exposure was a risk whenever someone worked on pipes, boilers, engines, cables, gaskets, valves or insulation. Dining and sleeping quarters were also a risk for those aboard a Naval ship because the overhead, flooring tiles, hatches and bulkheads often contained asbestos as well. When the tiles or hatches wore down or were damaged, asbestos could be released into the air, which could be breathed in by veterans or tracked to different parts of the ship.
Marines working in shipyards were also at a high risk for asbestos exposure. Navy shipyard workers and the Marines that worked alongside them were tasked with security, as well as those assigned duties in constructing ship infrastructure such as insulation and piping were at risk of asbestos exposure.
Infrastructure was generally lined with asbestos to protect it from fires and excessive heat. Incinerators, boilers, and pipes were all lined with asbestos in order to insulate them and protect workers from these heat producing systems. The military’s largest shipyards were in California, New York, Washington Virginia, and Oregon. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the military stopped building ships with asbestos materials.
Tanks and other motor transport vehicles used by the Marines were not exempt from asbestos use. In the 1960s, the Marines used the M60 Patton tank, which used asbestos insulation for fireproofing. Inside the tank, gunner’s operating weapons systems wore gloves lined with asbestos to protect them from burns. The tank’s insulation or firewall would wear down over time, allowing asbestos to easily become airborne and breathed in by Marines operating the tank.
Transport vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, and amphibious assault vehicles all had similar asbestos risks—as the insulation in these vehicles wore down, the asbestos exposure risk increased. Marines working as mechanics on aircraft or transport vehicles also had a relatively high risk of asbestos exposure. These Marines often came in contact with seals and gaskets made with asbestos as well as engines, brakes and clutches.
Prior to the late-1970s, Marine barracks were also lined with asbestos, as the military typically used the material to protect their infrastructure from heat and fire. Asbestos products could be found in the following locations:
- Flooring tiles
- Ceiling tiles
- Roofing materials
- Heating systems
- Boiler rooms
- Brake linings
As the materials wore down over time, or were removed during maintenance, it was easier for asbestos to be released into the air. However, Marines with the highest risk were the ones that were building or repairing barracks. These Marines had to handle the materials made from asbestos, and as they were disturbed, asbestos fibers were released into the air.