Asbestos Exposure in Military Branches and Wars

During the war asbestos, which has both fireproof and insulation capabilities, had been considered a fundamental supply for the U.S. military. Asbestos product manufacturers hid the dangers from our nation and our brave soldiers.

Asbestos Exposure in Military Branches and Wars
Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos Exposure in Military Branches and Wars

The use of asbestos was encouraged throughout each branch of the armed forces to build and strengthen barracks, planes, ships, and tanks. However, these promoted “benefits” that initiated service members to handle such parts and/or products, live in insulated military quarters, and travel in such vessels, had dangers pertaining to asbestos that product manufactures had failed to disclose.

Asbestos Exposure in Military Branches and Wars

Asbestos Exposure in the United States Air Force

In the history of the U.S. Air Force, asbestos had a significant impact on airbases as well as radar stations where service men and women were stationed. Aircraft contained asbestos heat protection in the cockpit, primarily for insulation and heat shield purposes. Asbestos brakes, electrical wiring, gaskets, and valve packing were used in these aircraft.

Although pilots were vulnerable to exposure when sitting in cockpits which had a coating of asbestos, Air Force mechanics faced a stronger risk as they may have directly handled and inhaled fibers during routine maintenance.

Asbestos Exposure in the United States Air Force
Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos in the United States Army

Throughout much of the 20th-century service members from the United States Army had faced asbestos exposure while staying in the buildings in which they had eaten, slept, and worked. The exterior was not the only source of asbestos exposure, in fact, interior foundations such as cement foundations, flooring, pipes, and roofing insulation were found to be covered with asbestos.

Although asbestos usage in new construction ended in the late 1970s, it continued to remain present decades later in Army installations. By the end of the century, an environmental clean-up of $1 billion was required for re-aligned or closed military bases as asbestos was classified as a top contaminant.

Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos Exposure in the United States Marine Corps

Marines were exposed at bases where they lived and trained. They were also exposed to asbestos on armored vehicles, ships, and planes.

Marines working as repairmen and mechanics unknowingly worked with and inhaled asbestos, similar to their Army and Navy counterparts.

Asbestos in the United States Navy
Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos in the United States Navy

Because of the known fire-resistance of asbestos, the majority of the U.S. Navy had ships with asbestos products from bow to stern. Unfortunately, members of the U.S. Navy on board these ships were exposed to the toxic material and, as a result, veterans of the Navy are paying the price of past manufacturing decisions today. In fact, veterans account for one-third of those who have developed mesothelioma, and a large number of these veterans have a Navy Service record.

The areas of the ship that contained the most asbestos included compartments below-deck, such as ammunition storage rooms, boiler rooms, engine rooms, mess halls, and sleeping quarters. As the ships aged as well as during maintenance and repair, asbestos fibers became airborne and inhaled.

Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos Exposure in the United States Coast Guard

Fires posed a concerning threat aboard both Navy and Coast Guard vessels. Although the primary purpose of using asbestos materials was to decrease such threats, unfortunately, asbestos products posed a threat themselves.

Asbestos was incorporated in boiler room equipment, electrical insulation, gaskets, pipes, plumbing, pumps, and turbines to act as a fire retardant;

  • Nearly all areas surrounding the boiler rooms and engine had been insulated with asbestos.
  • Asbestos fibers had been placed in pipe covering used throughout the ship.
  • Asbestos insulation coated many sections of the ship.

However, ships are not the only source of asbestos exposure that threatened Coast Guardsmen – both buildings around Coast Guard bases and housing structures can be endangering to the health of these service men and women. In fact, if members move into structures built before 1981, they must sign a Disclosure of Environmental Health Hazards in the Coast Guard Housing contract.

The use of asbestos in the last three decades has been significantly reduced, however, the long latency of mesothelioma still has left many individuals at risk. It may take 20 to 50 years for symptoms of mesothelioma to develop following exposure to asbestos fibers.

Asbestos Exposure in the United States Coast Guard
Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos Exposure for Merchant Marines

Asbestos exposure for merchant marines was very similar to their comrades in the U.S. Navy. The harmful effects of asbestos on merchant crew members as well as an increase in the rates of respiratory disease due to asbestos have been documented in numerous studies.

A study of 1,767 marine inspectors who served in the USCG between 1942 and 1970 found that the inspectors had a mortality rate. The researchers who conducted the study found that USCG inspectors were more likely to develop harmful diseases due to exposures of numerous toxic chemicals, including asbestos.

The primary vessel used to transport war materials was known as Liberty Ships; these ships required asbestos-based materials such as boards, cords, decks, ducts, heating systems, gaskets, insulation, and pipes. Due to the high amount of asbestos used to build these vessels, it is worthless to scrap them.

Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos Exposure in the National Guard

To this day, despite efforts to discontinue the use of asbestos for construction purposes, some locations where active guardsmen are serving have traces of asbestos. Unfortunately, this puts these individuals at risk for long-term hazards due to exposure.

In 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, the National Guard had deployed 50,000 troops to the Gulf. Among many duties that were performed by these Guardsmen were rescue missions which sent them into dangerous buildings and homes filled with asbestos.

Various installations throughout the country where Guardsmen worked prior to deployment have had traces of asbestos. One of the most common locations for gathering was in armories. These armories were typically constructed in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s when asbestos usage was most prevalent.

In addition to responding to emergencies at home, Guardsmen also respond abroad. Many places where Guards serve international peacekeeping missions use asbestos. These locations include:

  • Bosnia
  • Haiti
  • Kosovo
  • Kuwait
  • Somalia
Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos Exposure During Wartime

Asbestos Exposure during World War II

The youngest man in American history to serve as United States Chief of Naval Operations was Decorated Navy Admiral Elmo Zumwalt. While serving as a career officer, Zumwalt was exposed to asbestos during World War II. Despite this exposure early in his Navy career, Zumwalt unfortunately developed mesothelioma and died in January 2000, at the age of 80.

According to statistics from Veterans Affairs, death (due to asbestos-related diseases) is becoming more frequent among the remaining World War II veterans – these rates range to 15,000 per month. Frank Curre was Navy veteran that survived the attack on Pearl Harbor from Waco, Texas. On the 70th anniversary of the bombing in Hawaii which pulled American into war Curre lost his life to mesothelioma.

Korean War

Asbestos was used in over 300 products and parts for ships used during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. During the Korean war alone, virtually every mode of transportations contained asbestos – including aircrafts, jeeps, tanks, trunks, and ships.

Jeff Burdine, 78, a Navy veteran from Salem, Ohio, served on board the USS Neosho for two years, which carried fuel during the Korean War. During his time serving, a common job of Burdine was to clean steam pipes that had been wrapped in asbestos insulation. In 2012, according to the Port Clinton News Herald, he was diagnosed with asbestosis. Since his post-Navy career never involved asbestos, Burdine believes that his exposure during his time in the Navy is the cause of the disease and recently filed for compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Details of the asbestos exposure and mesothelioma diagnosis of Navy veteran Allen Johnson of Smithville, Utah are included in the Korean War Educator’s memoir section

Allen Johnson is a Navy veteran from Smithville, Utah, that served aboard the USS Randall – and a mesothelioma victim. The engine room of the USS Randall, which was covered with asbestos dusts and fibers, was where Johnson had spent a great deal of time. In 2004, following his diagnosis, he began to receive a monthly check of $894 in 2004 as compensation. Although this amount is hardly sufficient for a lifespan that has been shortened from serving his country, Johnson was nevertheless grateful. Details of Johnson’s asbestos exposure and mesothelioma diagnosis are included in the Korean War Educator’s memoir section.

Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War, from 1956-1975, the use of asbestos was at its peak in the United States. Asbestos was used for many different means of military transportation – whether aircraft, jeeps, tanks, trucks, and ships. Although its primary purpose was for safety, it was soon discovered that it had more life-threatening effects, making those who served in the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy extremely vulnerable to the development of asbestos-related diseases.

America averaged an annual consumption of more than 700,000 tons of asbestos from 1964-1975, according to the United States Geological Survey. The all-time high in 1973 was 803,000 tons.

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Despite the halt of asbestos production in the United States due to the dangers of public health, foreign war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq continue to utilize the low-cost fiber to rebuild many different infrastructures.

The use of asbestos in Middle East countries may include:

  • Cement boards
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Drywall joint compounds
  • Floor tiles
  • Pipe insulation
  • Roofing shingles
  • Spray-on fireproofing

The International Labor Organization or ILO Convention No. 162 – which unfortunately is not operating in any nation in the Middle East – establishes proper health and safety regulations for asbestos worldwide. Without regulatory laws protecting workers or U.S. military members from asbestos in Middle-Eastern countries, the use of the material poses severe long-term health risks.

During military operations many buildings in Afghanistan and Iraq have frequently experienced damages or are destroyed by various munitions.  When these aged buildings and their asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, toxic fibers are released and spread for miles by the harsh desert winds. Local residents and soldiers in these countries are not only at risk of circulating asbestos contamination, but also soldiers who are nowhere near the destructed sites.

In 2009, mesothelioma lawsuits were filed in North Carolina, Wyoming, New York, Missouri, Georgia, Minnesota, Illinois, Alabama, and California. The lawsuits were against Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), which operated during the Afghanistan and Iraq military campaigns. The lawsuit in each of the nine states essentially claimed that KBR endangered the lives of government contractors and United States soldiers that served in during the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.

These suits focused mainly on the accusation that KBR was using open-air burn pits which exposed government contractors and United States Soldiers to asbestos as well as many other forms of deadly chemicals. Even though KBR has denied these claims, this exposure put many US servicemen in danger.

The South Asian Ban Asbestos network and Ban Asbestos of India as well as many other organizations have suggested that Afghanistan stop its use of Asbestos in any form. These two organizations came together to create a proclamation letter for the Kabul presidential palace. This letter outlined many concerns which clearly explained the dangers of asbestos use and requested that the Afghanistan government limit the use of asbestos if not eliminate it all together.

It is widely known that one of the planets largest exporters of asbestos is Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is known to export vast amounts of asbestos to Afghanistan, mainly due to how close they are to Afghanistan, making them a prime client for this form of business. A report from the International Ban Asbestos secretariat stated that the awareness of afghanistan civilians of the dangers of asbestos was low. It also stated that physicians were poorly educated on the health risks associated with handling or being exposed to asbestos. The report outlined in a statement that “Due to the need to rebuild Afghanistan, the demand for asbestos-containing products for construction has caused local production to increase.

Stages of Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural Mesothelioma Stages

A doctor will also determine the stage of mesothelioma as part of the diagnostic process, which determines the origin in the lining of the lungs and describes how far it has spread from that point. This information is significant to doctors when determining potential treatment availabilities. Standard treatment options are more commonly available to patients with stage 1 or stage 2 compared to patients with the later 3 and 4 stages.

The following are the pleural mesothelioma stages:


Within Stage 1, the mesothelioma tumor is generally in one location, and the cancerous cells have not dispersed to lymph nodes or other body organs and tissues. In general, surgical treatment may be an option for eliminating the cancerous growth.



Within Stage 2, the mesothelioma tumor is larger and has probably intruded on surrounding organs, such as the lung or even diaphragm. Lymph nodes could additionally be included. In this case, surgical reapportion might still be feasible, however much more difficult depending on the scope of the growth.



Within Stage 3, mesothelioma cancer has infested a region or perhaps location. Cancer has progressively spread throughout one side of the chest, within the chest wall, esophagus, and additional lymph nodes. Surgical treatment is typically not an option as curative therapy, however various other treatment options may be attempted. 


Within Stage 4, the mesothelioma has dispersed to numerous locations, such as various other organs and tissues throughout the body. Surgical treatment is no longer an alternative, and most treatments at this stage concentrate on minimizing discomfort and pain.