Which Military Branches Used Asbestos?
All U.S. military branches have used asbestos throughout their history. Military members stationed overseas may still be involved in the direct handling of asbestos-based products. Though every branch had asbestos applications, some used it more abundantly than others.
The different amounts of asbestos use throughout the military means there are varying levels of health risks for certain military occupations.
Here’s an overview of the different military branches and how each one used asbestos:
Asbestos Exposure in the Navy
The U.S. Navy has by far the highest exposure risk of any military branch. Nearly every warship built in the mid-20th century was lined with asbestos insulation.
Sailors who spent extended periods of time aboard these vessels 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.
However, some Navy sailors worked directly with asbestos-based products on a daily basis in their duties.
Navy jobs with a high risk of asbestos exposure included:
- Construction workers
- Engine mates
- Machinist’s mates
- Shipyard workers
Anyone who worked at these jobs — and others — during their Navy service runs a high risk of mesothelioma today.
Navy Ships and Shipyards
Navy sailors responsible for shipbuilding and shipyard work had the highest levels of asbestos exposure. That’s because they were directly handling asbestos-based products used on Navy ships.
As shipyard workers performed their duties, they were constantly surrounded by a material that could lead to their deaths. Even their after-work living quarters were not safe, as many barracks and bases were built with asbestos products.
Asbestos Exposure in the Air Force
Planes and other aircraft used by the Air Force relied on many asbestos-based materials and parts. Asbestos helped prevent the planes from catching on fire.
Asbestos-containing products used by the Air Force included:
- Brake pads
- Cockpit and engine insulation
Anyone who regularly worked on Air Force planes was at risk of asbestos exposure. Pilots, mechanics, and aircrew members like gunners all may have been exposed on a regular basis.
Asbestos Exposure in the Army
Army soldiers were exposed to asbestos in several ways.
First, asbestos was a key product used in Army vehicles. It was used in clutches, brake pads, and gaskets. Asbestos-based products could also be found in Army barracks, bases, and living quarters.
Any soldier who spent any time in Army vehicles or could have been exposed to asbestos at some point. However, some Army veterans may be at a higher risk depending on what job held during their service.
Army occupations with a high risk of asbestos exposure included:
- Construction workers
These jobs constantly exposed Army soldiers to asbestos.
Modern-Day Army Asbestos Exposure
Though asbestos was phased out of Army operations, veterans of the recent Afghanistan and Iraq wars were likely exposed to asbestos when buildings exploded.
These Army vets are still at risk of developing mesothelioma due to the 20-50 year period it takes to develop this cancer after asbestos exposure.
Asbestos Exposure in the Coast Guard
Coast Guard veterans who served on military ships between the 1930s and 1980s are at risk of developing mesothelioma.
In particular, Coast Guard veterans who worked to maintain or fix their ships may have been directly exposed on a regular basis.
Coast Guard jobs with a high risk of asbestos exposure included:
Additionally, sleeping quarters on Coast Guard ships were also lined with asbestos, putting service members at risk of exposure while they slept or rested.
These ships were poorly ventilated, meaning that any disturbed asbestos fibers could continue to circulate through the ship and risk inhalation by crew members.
Asbestos Exposure in the Marine Corps
Many Marine Corps veterans could be at risk of developing mesothelioma.
The Marine Corps worked alongside different branches of the military, but was very versatile and could operate 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 regularly exposed to asbestos from:
- Navy ships
- Military bases and living quarters
In particular, the Marine Corps worked closely with the Navy during wartime. Marines often had similar levels of asbestos exposure to sailors as a result.
Modern-day Marines who served in Afghanistan and Iraq may have been exposed to asbestos through building explosions.
Secondhand Asbestos Exposure in Military Families
Military veterans themselves were not the only ones at risk. If their families lived with them in military bases or military-built housing, they also could have been put at risk through secondhand exposure.
Secondhand asbestos exposure occurs when someone who does not directly handle asbestos products is exposed. 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.