Before the health risks became apparent, many different industries relied on asbestos materials. In the process, thousands of workers handled asbestos-containing products on a daily basis.
Some jobs with a high risk of asbestos exposure include construction workers and auto mechanics. These workers did not know this constant exposure would put them at a high risk of mesothelioma later on.
Those who served in the military when asbestos was widely used are also at a high risk. Much like they did with the general public, asbestos companies did not inform the military of the dangers of asbestos until thousands had been put at risk.
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:
- 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
- Electrical wires
- Transmission parts
Asbestos and the Military
For over 60 years, the United States military used asbestos products without knowing the deadly risks. Its use exploded during World War II and did not slow down until the early 1980s.
Asbestos was considered the ideal military-grade material because it was an excellent fire retardant and insulator.
It was used in many military assets, including:
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).
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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
- 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
- Cement products
- Engines and engine rooms
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.
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:
- Fuel line coverings
- Gaskets and seals
- Insulation for cabins and cargo bays
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.
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.