Asbestos on navy ships exposed millions of military veterans to a dangerous carcinogen, known to cause severe illnesses—including asbestosis and mesothelioma, as well as lung and other cancers. More than 10,000 people are diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases each year, with the majority of them exposed in an occupational setting.
Navy veterans are among the largest group of workers diagnosed with mesothelioma and other related conditions. The main cause of these illnesses is exposure to asbestos, a common component found in the insulation of navy vessels.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral—made up of small fibers—that can be bound together to form a sturdy and highly heat-resistant material. Because of its strength and ability to withstand high temperatures, asbestos was touted as an ideal choice for the manufacturing of consumer products for many years.
Building materials were routinely made from asbestos fibers throughout much of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Asbestos on navy ships was found in the insulation of engine rooms and pipelines, as well as in fireproof walls and doors.
Concerns about the consequences of asbestos exposure began to rise around the middle of the 20th century, when it became apparent that people who experienced repeat exposure were falling ill. The Environmental Protection Agency officially banned the use of asbestos in 1989.
Because malignant mesothelioma and other life-threatening and often fatal asbestos-linked illnesses do not become apparent until several decades post-exposure, many individuals do not realize that they are at risk until it is too late. Navy veterans make up approximately one-third of victims, and anyone who served before 1980 has the potential to end up in that group.
Asbestos on navy ships is a concern for any veteran who worked on those vessels, but certain jobs were more likely to bring workers into contact with the toxic material than others. Among the positions with the highest probable rate of exposure were boilermaker and boiler room technician, as well as instrument man and sonar technician.
Asbestos causes damage to the internal organs of the body after it becomes airborne, when tiny fragments are inhaled through the nose and mouth. Those particles are primarily harmful to the linings of the lungs and abdominal cavity, causing a rare but serious type of cancer called mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is directly caused by the inhalation of asbestos on navy ships and in other occupational environments where it exists. Some other professions that may have been exposed to asbestos regularly include car mechanics and construction workers.
Even family members of those who came into regular contact with asbestos are at heightened risk for related illnesses, because tiny particles attached to the skin and clothing of these individuals were often brought into their homes.
If you have been exposed to asbestos, some of the symptoms of mesothelioma to be on the lookout for are: fatigue, shortness of breath or wheezing, weight loss and stomach pain. Early detection is vital for recovery, so anyone experiencing symptoms should seek medical evaluation immediately.