Monday, June 18, 2012

Asbestos Exposure among U.S. Veterans and the Health Effects

When veterans return home from active service back to the country they served so diligently, they seldom think that the dangers they encountered while on active duty will still put them at risk. A very real danger that many veterans are unaware of is asbestos exposure.

Asbestos can withstand heat, chemical corrosion and is a poor conductor of electricity. For this reason, it was used in military insulation, fire proofing and in vehicle and weapon parts. However, when asbestos is damaged or disturbed, inhaled or ingested fibers can cause severe illnesses including deadly cancers.

This toxic material was found in abundance on Army proving grounds, Navy battleships and in military bases all over the world. Veterans of several wars including the Vietnam War, Korean War and especially World War II were all exposed to asbestos regularly. During the Cold War, rearmament asbestos use reached 1,800 million pounds annually and its use did not decrease until after the 1970s, endangering Cold War veterans.

Navy veterans and shipyard workers were at the highest risk for asbestos exposure. In World War II alone, 5,000 merchant vessels were produced in American shipyards and in 1943 the U.S. Navy launched 30,000 warships. Boilers and water pipes aboard these ships were insulated with asbestos. The paint on these vessels also used asbestos. Many of these ships remained in use well beyond the 1970s.

Health Effects of Asbestos Exposure
After asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. The most deadly of these is mesothelioma cancer.

Mesothelioma tumors grow in the linings of internal organs. Most mesothelioma sufferers have pleural mesothelioma, and it affects the lining of the lungs. The symptoms of this disease include chest pain, difficulty breathing, persistent dry cough, excessive fluid in the lungs and unexplained weight loss.
The symptoms of this disease often take 10 to 50 years from the date of initial exposure to surface, and by the time it is diagnosed the tumor is usually in later stages. Usually, the earlier mesothelioma is diagnosed, the better the treatment options and prognosis. Veterans can contact their local VA center for asbestos disease health screenings.

Bio: Michelle Y. Llamas researches and writes about asbestos and its related diseases for the Mesothelioma Center.

Hedley – Whyte, J. & Milamed, D. R. (2008) Asbestos and ship-building: Fatal consequences. Retrieved from

---- 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