Exposure and Health Risks

Asbestos is a cheap, lightweight and durable mineral. The U.S. military and many industries relied on asbestos products from the 1920s to the 1980s. However, asbestos has been linked to mesothelioma in veterans and workers who were exposed. Asbestos companies knew of this risk but put profits over the facts.

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What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring material that resists exposure to fire, sound, water and chemicals. It is composed of millions of fibers, which bind together to create a light yet virtually indestructible material.

Asbestos is mined from natural deposits around the world. Once removed from the ground, it is processed and developed into industrial materials. Asbestos deposits can naturally be found in countries like the United States, China, Russia and South America.

Prior to the early 1970s, asbestos-based products were widely believed to be safe. Since asbestos naturally resisted many elements, it was used to strengthen thousands of different products. In the process, dozens of industries — and countless jobs — came to rely on asbestos.

Asbestos was used in:

  • Buildings
  • Construction materials
  • Planes and helicopters
  • Ships
  • Vehicles

Does Asbestos Cause Cancer?

Despite its many uses, asbestos is extremely toxic.

When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they lodge themselves into the tissue linings of various organs. Once the fibers become stuck, they damage healthy tissue and, in some cases, cause cancerous tumors to form. It takes decades of irritation from asbestos fibers before these deadly health problems become present.

Outside of mesothelioma, asbestos has been linked to other diseases such as asbestosis and lung cancer. These cancers and diseases are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year globally. None of them can be cured.


Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that can form in the linings of the lungs, heart, abdomen or testicles. It takes 20-50 years before the cancer develops, but once it sets in it is very aggressive.

Most cases of mesothelioma are not diagnosed until after it has spread to other areas in the body. This makes it harder to treat. However, if it is caught early on, patients may be able to live several years after their diagnosis.


Asbestosis is a non-cancerous disease that causes lung scarring and breathing problems. This disease forms after asbestos fibers get trapped inside the lung. The chronic irritation eventually leads to scarring.

In cases of asbestosis, this scarring does not cause cancerous tumors to form. Instead, the lung gets progressively weaker and stiffer. This leads to painful symptoms such as a persistent cough, shortness of breath and fatigue.

There is no cure for asbestosis, and treatments can only help keep the patient comfortable. Asbestosis worsens over time and can be fatal.

Lung Cancer

Asbestos can sometimes cause lung cancer if the fibers get trapped in the lungs. Cancerous tumors then grow inside the lungs and can spread to other areas. Approximately 4,000 cases of lung cancer diagnosed each year are caused by asbestos exposure.

While lung cancer can be deadly, there are treatment options if it is caught early on. Lung cancer tumors tend to appear as growths, meaning that they can be identified and removed. This can greatly increase your survival time.

Where Was I Exposed to Asbestos?

By the 1950s, many industries relied heavily on asbestos-containing products. Everything from drywall to hairdryers could contain asbestos. The military also used asbestos products to keep its assets fireproof and durable.

Were You Exposed to Asbestos?

Thoudands of workers and military personnel came into contact with asbestos on a regular basis. Get a free legal case review to find out if you may have been exposed.

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In many countries, asbestos is the number one cause of workplace-related deaths. Sadly, this is not well-reported due to the long latency period between asbestos exposure on the job and the development of fatal illnesses.

Asbestos and Construction

Asbestos could be found in dozens of construction materials since it is so versatile. During the decades when asbestos was widely used, construction workers handled these materials on a daily basis.

By nature, construction work kicks up a lot of dust. However, as asbestos products were used and installed, fibers could become airborne. On-site workers who regularly breathed in this contaminated air were at risk of disease later on.

Construction products made with asbestos can include:

  • Drywall
  • Paint
  • Pipes
  • Plastics
  • Roofing, tiles and shingles

Asbestos and Auto Mechanics

Auto parts often contained asbestos, so many mechanics faced exposure every day.

As mechanics installed, removed and repaired asbestos-containing vehicle parts, tiny asbestos fibers could enter the air around them. After decades of constantly inhaling these fibers, many mechanics are now falling ill.

Vehicle parts that may have contained asbestos include:

  • Brake pads
  • Clutches
  • Electrical wires
  • Engines
  • Transmission parts

Asbestos and the Military

For over 60 years, the United States military used asbestos products without knowing the deadly risks.

Considered the ideal military-grade material, asbestos was used as a fire retardant and insulator in many military assets, including ships, planes, cars and bases. Its use exploded during World War II and did not slow down until the early 1980s.

The military didn’t know asbestos was dangerous until thousands had already been exposed. Much like they did with the general public, companies that sold asbestos products kept the military in the dark about the deadly health risks.

Today, thousands of military veterans who were exposed to asbestos are now being diagnosed with deadly cancers and other illnesses. These veterans may receive health care benefits by filing a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).


Though anyone who served in the Army when asbestos was widely used could have been exposed, some were in more danger than others. In particular, Army construction workers and mechanics often faced daily asbestos exposure.

Asbestos could be found in Army assets such as:

  • Bases and barracks
  • Infrastructure, plumbing and piping
  • Tanks
  • Vehicle components

As Army personnel worked to build and repair these assets, they could easily cause asbestos fibers to enter the air surrounding them.


The Navy used more asbestos products than any other branch of the military. Many ships were lined from tip to stern with asbestos, and many different types of Navy equipment also contained asbestos.

On Navy ships, asbestos could be found in:

  • Boiler rooms
  • Ceiling and floor tiles
  • Pipes
  • Engines and engine rooms
  • Cement products

Many Navy ships were cramped, meaning that asbestos fibers could linger in the air longer if disturbed. Navy service members spent months or years serving aboard these vessels, putting them at constant risk.

Air Force

The Air Force used asbestos products to prevent its planes, helicopters and ships from catching on fire. Asbestos was thought of as a perfect solution since it was lightweight and resisted flame extremely well.

Common Air Force plane parts that contained asbestos included:

  • Insulation for cabins and cargo bays
  • Engines
  • Gaskets and seals
  • Fuel line coverings
  • Sealants

In addition to planes, many Air Force bases and living quarters were also built with asbestos, making the mineral almost inescapable. Navy personnel who worked to build these ships had an incredibly high risk, as they directly handled asbestos products every day.


Marines could work in any environment, meaning that they could be at risk of asbestos exposure from many different places. Marines who served aboard Navy ships for long periods of time ran a high risk, as did those who worked in shipyards.

However, Marines also could be exposed through the living quarters, vehicles and planes they used. Since asbestos use was so widespread — most Marines were exposed no matter where they served.

Coast Guard

Since the Coast Guard uses boats, planes and helicopters to conduct high-risk missions, asbestos was essential. Asbestos resisted both fire and water, so these assets would last longer and resist both the elements and enemy attacks.

Unfortunately, Coast Guard service members could inhale asbestos fibers on a daily basis due to this widespread use. Those who had to repair the Coast Guard’s ships and aircraft had an especially high risk, as they had to directly handle the asbestos-containing products.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure

Though workers and military service personnel faced a huge risk of being exposed to asbestos, there was also another lesser-known threat: secondary exposure.

When asbestos particles entered the air, they could settle onto workers’ clothing, equipment and personal items. When these contaminated items came home with the employee after work, their family members were at risk of exposure as well.

There are many stories of family members, particularly wives and children, developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases due to secondary exposure at home.

Additionally, secondary exposure affected worksite visitors, office personnel and anyone else who may have been in or around an asbestos-contaminated worksite.

Are Companies Still Using Asbestos?

Despite the health risks associated with asbestos, it is still in use today. While its use has been limited in the U.S., it has not been completely banned. Companies around the world continue to use asbestos in everything from building materials to car parts.

Additionally, asbestos still resides in many products and buildings that were constructed throughout the 20th century, so the risks of asbestos exposure are still high today. Despite removal efforts, many buildings, ships and vehicles may still contain traces of asbestos.

There have been many efforts to control or restrict asbestos distribution at local and national levels, but a complete asbestos ban has never been put into place in the United States.

Many advocates, policymakers and political leaders have fought to increase awareness regarding the devastating health risks associated with asbestos. This activism has allowed the federal government to establish programs that victims can use to seek compensation.

Seeking Compensation For Asbestos-Related Diseases

If you have developed an asbestos-related illness as a result of exposure on the job, you can file a legal claim to receive compensation.

Your claim will not be filed against the military or the company you worked for, as they also didn’t know the risks. Instead, it will be filed against the manufacturers of asbestos products, who knew the risks but sold their products anyway.

After the deadly truth about asbestos was revealed, the government ordered many of these manufacturers to set up trust funds for victims. There is over $30 Billion in these funds today, and you may be eligible to receive a portion of this money.

To receive a portion of this money, you can work with a mesothelioma lawyer with experience handling asbestos claims. Their experience will help you get the most compensation for your illness.

To find out more about asbestos claims, contact the Mesothelioma Justice Network today.

Author:Stephanie Kidd
Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd is the Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network and works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: June 12, 2019

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