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.
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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:
- 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.
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
- 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
- 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.
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
- Gaskets and seals
- Fuel line coverings
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.
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.