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Military Exposure to Asbestos

When remodeling an older home or building, one of the factors to consider is the possibility of coming in contact with asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral fiber that is used to strengthen, insulate, or promote fire resistance. Unfortunately, that fiber is now known to cause severe health conditions.

When asbestos is discovered in the home, The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission states that the best option is not to disturb the material containing asbestos. Sealing or covering the material limits the disturbance of particles. However, if removal is required, it should be done by a specially trained contractor to reduce increased health risks.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring group of silicate minerals. Its lightweight fibrous structure makes it nearly indestructible which is why it was used extensively before the 1980s. What we did not know then was that fibers released into the environment can be inhaled or ingested where, instead of remaining wrapped around pipes or in flooring, the air-born fibers are inhaled and attached to lung tissues.

The link between asbestos exposure and cancer was first discovered in 1934. By 1949, its dangers were widely known. But there wasn’t a partial ban on its manufacture, import, or distribution until 1989. By this time, its existence in homes, schools, warehouses, and other buildings was extensive.

Numerous living and work conditions exposed employees to the dangers of asbestos, including military personnel, who were, and may continue to be, exposed on a daily basis. According to the Environmental WorkingGroup, more than 40,000 veterans have died from exposure to asbestos while serving in the military, and these numbers are expected to grow because the effects can take decades to become apparent. Fibers can remain in the lungs, stomach, and other body tissues where they slowly cause inflammation and cell damage over a 20 to 60-year period.

According to the online brochure “20 Places in the Military with Asbestos Exposure and How Veterans are at Risk” published by Bergman Oslund Udo Little, PLLC, the most significant exposure in the military occurred on Navy ships including destroyers, cruisers, aircraft carriers, submarines, and barges. Contact from asbestos was likely everywhere on these ships with the most concentrated levels below deck. Since Navy personnel lived on these vessels, that exposure was continuous 24/7.

Those working in shipyards, construction, and maintaining aircraft and vehicles, firefighters, emergency medics, and veterans who were present for building explosions and demolitions also experienced heavy exposure. Other military personnel exposed to asbestos include the Army National Guard who were deployed to New York City after the World Trade Center bombings. High concentrations were emitted in toxic dust plumes.

In addition, those who drove vehicles such as jeeps, trucks, and tanks or worked in communication centers, armory storage facilities, missile sites, and power plants may have been affected. Even protective gear such as helmets, jackets, and boots included asbestos.

The U.S. Navy implemented a policy to remove and replace asbestos on ships in 1975 but later stated that 30 to 50 percent would not be replaced. In 1996, the U.S. House of Representatives admitted that nearly half of all military barracks were at least 30 years old which included asbestos. In addition, military family housing built before 2000 likely contained the fibers, as well. And fire blankets on Navy ships contained 100 percent amosite asbestos.

For more information, guidance, and assistance, contact Bergman Oslund Udo Little.


  • Photo: Courtesy of Retired Navy Chief Steven Lukasiewicsz

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