Which Military Branches Used Asbestos?
All branches of the U.S. Armed Forces used asbestos until the 1980s when the toxic mineral was finally removed from most military ships, vehicles, planes, and bases.
Some veterans may be at a higher risk than others depending on the Military Occupation Services (MOS) in which they served.
For example, shipyard workers typically worked with asbestos-containing products on a daily basis, meaning the extent to which they were exposed was likely much greater than those who served in the Military Police Corps, for example.
Below, learn how each branch of the U.S. military used asbestos and which military jobs put veterans at a higher risk of exposure.
Asbestos Exposure in the Navy
The U.S. Navy used more asbestos-containing products than any branch of the military since the mineral protected the ships from fires and corrosion.
Navy Ships and Asbestos
Almost every Navy ship built between 1930 and the late 1970s used asbestos-containing products.
Sailors who spent extended periods of time aboard these ships were at high risk of developing mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness.
Quarters in Navy ships were often cramped and poorly ventilated, making it virtually impossible to escape asbestos exposure.
In addition, some sailors in the Navy worked directly with asbestos-containing products on a daily basis depending on their MOS, putting them at even greater danger.
Navy rates with a risk of exposure included:
- Engine mates
- Machinist’s mates
- Shipyard workers
Anyone who worked at these jobs during their Navy service may run a higher risk of mesothelioma today.
Navy Ships and Shipyards
Navy sailors who worked in shipyards were exposed to high levels of asbestos since they were constantly surrounded by the deadly material.
Did You Know?
Shipyard workers had to build and repair Navy ships and directly handle asbestos-containing products on a daily basis. This work could send asbestos fibers into the air around them, where it could easily be inhaled.
Even their after-work living quarters were not safe, as many barracks and bases were built with asbestos-containing products.
Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force
Anyone who regularly worked on aircraft in the U.S. Air Force was at risk of exposure since asbestos-containing parts were used to keep planes from catching on fire.
Asbestos-based products used by the Air Force included:
- Brake pads
- Cockpit and engine insulation
Pilots, mechanics, and aircrew members like gunners all may have been exposed on a regular basis.
Asbestos Exposure in the Army
Asbestos-containing products were used throughout the Army in vehicle parts, such as clutches, brake pads, and gaskets, and in construction materials used to make Army barracks, bases, and living quarters.
Any soldier who spent any time in Army vehicles or bases or could have been exposed to asbestos at some point.
Army jobs with a high risk of asbestos exposure included:
- Construction workers
These jobs forced Army soldiers to work with asbestos-containing products on a daily basis, and the soldiers didn’t know the dangers until decades later.
Asbestos Exposure in the Coast Guard
Much like the Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard heavily relied on asbestos-containing products to build their ships, meaning anyone who served aboard them could now be at risk of developing mesothelioma.
These ships were poorly ventilated, meaning that any disturbed asbestos fibers could continue to circulate through the ship and risk inhalation by crew members.
Coast Guard jobs with a risk of exposure included:
Much like Navy shipyard workers, these Coast Guardsmen had to install or repair asbestos-containing materials on a regular basis.
Additionally, sleeping quarters on Coast Guard ships were also lined with asbestos, putting service members at risk of exposure while they slept or rested.
Asbestos Exposure in the Marine Corps
The U.S. Marine Corps worked alongside other branches of the Armed Forces but also operated on its own. Because of this, there were many ways that Marine veterans could have come in contact with asbestos.
The Marine Corps may have been exposed to asbestos from:
- Bases and living quarters
- Air Force planes
- Navy ships
Veterans of the Marine Corps were at particularly high risk if they served tours of duty on Navy ships.
These vessels used many asbestos-containing products and were poorly ventilated, making it easier to inhale stray asbestos fibers in the air.
Secondhand Asbestos Exposure in Military Families
Military veterans themselves were not the only ones susceptible to asbestos exposure, as their family members also could have been put at risk through secondhand exposure.
Did You Know?
Secondhand asbestos exposure occurs when someone comes in indirect contact with the mineral. This exposure can be just as deadly as being exposed on the job.
For example, if a military member got asbestos dust on their clothes and returned home, the fibers could enter the air and put their family members at risk.
Modern-Day Military Asbestos Exposure
Although the military removed most asbestos from its buildings, vehicles, and ships in the 1980s, some service members may still be at risk even today.
For example, modern-day Soldiers who served in the Middle East may have been exposed from building explosions, as some older buildings in Middle Eastern countries still contain asbestos.