Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Nearly a third of the people diagnosed with this terrible illness are military veterans, and the largest portion of these victims are veterans of the U.S. Navy. Asbestos-related illnesses take decades to develop, so even long after asbestos use was largely discontinued, veterans have been getting sick. Many victims of asbestos diseases have taken legal actionand won justice from those responsible.
Asbestos and Health Risks
Asbestos is a mineral that has been mined and used for centuries in all types of construction and materials. It is unique as a material in that it resists fire, heat, and electricity and is lightweight and flexible. Because of these properties it has been used in insulation, fireproofing, electronics, heating systems, boilers and stoves, factories and equipment, and in many construction materials from adhesives and flooring tiles to siding and decorative moldings.
Asbestos is made up of sharp, tiny fibers that easily break off and become airborne and part of the dust. Exposure to these fibers can lead to inhalation or ingestion. They get stuck in the body causing damage that can lead to serious illness, especially a rare but aggressive kind of cancer called mesothelioma. The most common form of mesothelioma affects the tissues around the lungs and is called pleural mesothelioma.
Use of Asbestos in the Military
The discovery of how harmful asbestos fibers can be has led to strict regulations, but its use in the U.S. is not outlawed. And, many industries that heavily used asbestos decades before the 1970s laws came into effect still have old asbestos in many materials. The U.S. military is no exception. The construction of military bases and buildings used asbestos in flooring materials, insulation, pipe coverings, ceiling tiles, and other materials. In some locations this has been abated, but not before men and women working there were exposed to the fibers.
All branches of the military also used asbestos in equipment, vehicles, and aircraft. Heavy machinery, vehicles, and equipment contained asbestos for insulation and fireproofing. Asbestos was also used to avoid overheating in brakes and clutches in vehicles. Any men and women in the military who worked in industrial areas or maintained and repaired equipment and vehicles could have been exposed to asbestos.
Asbestos in the Navy
The heaviest military use of asbestos was in the ships of the U.S. Navy. All ships, military and civilian, that were built from approximately the 1930s to the late 1960s contained asbestos in nearly every area and part. Ships have seen the heaviest use of asbestos for a few reasons. One is that the risk of fire is so serious on a ship, so they are built with a lot of fireproofing and insulating materials. Another reason is that asbestos is lightweight and can be molded to fit unusual shapes, both important properties in ship building.
Veterans who worked in shipyards or on ships were at risk of exposure and may still show signs of mesothelioma. Those at the greatest risk worked in engine and boiler rooms, in repair and maintenance, or with insulation and fireproofing materials.
Legal Resources for Asbestos Victims
Exposure to asbestos will not cause everyone to become sick, but for those who do develop a terrible illness like mesothelioma, it can be a death sentence. Anyone who served in the military could be at risk of having mesothelioma or other asbestos illnesses. There are resources for affected veterans, especially the Veterans Administration, that provide a way to get financial and medical assistance for proven asbestos exposure and resulting health conditions.
Victims of asbestos exposure, both those in the military and civilians, can also consider filing a lawsuit or filing a claim with an asbestos trust. Some companies that made asbestos materials for the military have opened these trusts to compensate victims, but where there are no trusts available, a lawsuit is also an option to get needed compensation for medical costs. Veterans and others have suffered from preventable exposure to asbestos and legal action is one way to get justice.