Monday, August 15, 2011

Asbestos, Mesothelioma risks and the US Navy

I feel it is necessary to repeat this post. This information applies not only to US Navy
veterans, but to all veterans; and to anyone who worked with or around Asbestos.
It can take up to 30 years or more for symptoms to appear, so if you were exposed to
asbestos please get checked for related diseases.
Please see the link on the left for more information on Asbestos exposure.

This is a very important piece of information for anyone who
served in the U.S. Navy.
Please keep this, copy and take to your doctor to discuss your
possible exposure to asbestos, possible health problems, and
ask to be checked for Mesothelioma. 

Asbestos and the United States Navy

The recent post on this site discussing Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the development of Chinese military capacity has a couple of telling remarks in it that apply to military spending habits. He mentions the “cyclical view” of American military decline that has occurred among foreign nations many times, notably in the late 1970s. It is fair to say that the view of American military readiness is related to American military spending not only on new weapons systems, but on the maintenance of existing equipment and the numbers of men and women on active duty.

After each of the two World Wars U.S. military spending was reduced dramatically and U.S. interest in maintaining a large combat-ready military dropped to peacetime expectations. Korea and Vietnam changed that pattern in the military for the length of those conflicts, but military spending during non-combat years has always been focused on new systems and not upkeep. The result over the decades has been the accumulation of outmoded bases, facilities and in the case of the Navy, outmoded ships.

Asbestos and the World War II Navy

It is well known by now that asbestos exposure can cause cancer and the development of asbestosis, a progressive and destructive respiratory disease. It is also known that thirty percent of all asbestos related mesothelioma cancer victims have been veterans. And the majority of the veterans who were at risk for asbestos cancer are Navy veterans. Sailors and shipyard workers who served on and worked on World War II Navy vessels were exposed to asbestos in engine rooms, alongside boilers, from the miles of pipe on the ships, and from the insulation and fire protection materials used in ship construction.

Every ship commissioned by the Navy from 1930 to about 1970 was fitted with tons of asbestos insulation, the perfect material for Navy use because of its insulation and fire resistant properties. Sailors inhaled asbestos fibers from the insulation that covered boilers and pipes and that was used for gaskets and packing in pumps and valves. Thousands of them got sick.

Asbestos and the Cold War Navy

After it became clear that asbestos is a carcinogen the Navy was fairly proactive in cleaning up its ships and eliminating asbestos products from newly built craft as well as in existing Navy bases and shipyards. But cleaning up all that asbestos in all those ships and locations took years and for many Cold War veterans asbestos exposure was a common occurrence. The USS Enterprise still has an asbestos abatement team on board, an example of the health risks associated with vessels of that era.

Asbestos exposure doesn’t take its toll for decades after it occurs. The latency period for mesothelioma is forty years or more. For asbestosis it can be twenty to thirty years. So Cold War vets who were unknowingly exposed to asbestos during active duty may just now be getting sick. After decades of denial the VA has finally recognized asbestos related disease as possibly related to active duty. It’s not easy to prove: the military insists that you be able to demonstrate that asbestos exposure occurred during active duty.

That’s not easy after a lifetime of post-service jobs and careers. But if you are a Navy veteran suffering from an asbestos related disease, don’t think that because your service came after 1945 the asbestos threat in active Navy duty is unlikely. Asbestos use was so common and so pervasive that exposure in all military branches continued through the twentieth century.


Bob Hartzell is a freelance writer for, a resource on health risks and hazards commonly linked to dangerous levels of asbestos exposure, such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Jerald Terwilliger
National Chairman
American Cold War Veterans
"We Remember" 

---------------- "And so the greatest of American triumphs... became a peculiarly joyless victory. We had won the Cold War, but there would be no parades." -- Robert M. Gates, 1996