Because of the toxic hazard afforded by navy ships with asbestos, thousands of U.S. Navy veterans have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. The situation is so grave that, despite all military veterans combined making up only about 8 percent of the total United Stated population, navy veterans alone comprise nearly a third of all diagnosed cases of mesothelioma reported annually!
The relationship between the U.S. Navy and asbestos stems from heavy usage of asbestos-containing construction materials aboard Navy ships and a 1939 mandate requiring such usage. But its important to understand that the primary fault for veteran asbestos exposure is placed not on the military but on the many companies it contracted with that provided these dangerous toxins in the form of consumer products.
It is now established that manufacturers of asbestos products knew about the hazards they imposed on human health and safety as early as the 1930s. Yet these manufacturers, who at the time were turning profits that totaled in the millions each year, chose to secret knowledge about the dangers of asbestos from not only the public at large but particularly from workers that came into contact with it daily—and the businesses (or government agencies) that employed those workers.
Navy ships with asbestos could be found in shipyards and on naval bases all over the U.S., and asbestos-containing products were not just in one part of the ship or another—they were everywhere, literally from top to bottom. Ceiling tiles were routinely made from asbestos tiles, as were flooring tiles. It could also be found in concrete, insulation materials and mechanical parts like gaskets, valves and brakes.
Because navy ships with asbestos each contained such a large quantity of contamination, every onboard and shipyard-based occupational position was at risk for exposure. Non-combat and non-technical workers were likely exposed at a rate similar to those on the frontlines—meaning that virtually every veteran of the U.S. Navy, who served between the 1930s and 1970s, is a victim.
However, considering that the above listed parameters encompass millions of vets, its clear that exposure does not result in illness for everyone. In general, experts report the highest rate of mesothelioma cancer and other related conditions amongst those with the highest levels and rates of exposure. In other words, the more frequently a victim comes into contact with asbestos, the higher the likelihood of future illness. Additionally, the greater the amount of overall exposure time, the higher that risk rises.
The full extent of the liability given to navy ships with asbestos will not be calculable for many years still. Because asbestos-related illnesses have long latency periods—10 to 50 years or more—there are still plenty of veterans who experienced exposure that are still likely pending a diagnosis.
Anyone at risk is strongly urged to undergo regular and frequent medical check-ups, as well as to contact the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs or Veteran Benefits Administration for information on how these routine screenings may be covered by benefits that are available to all veterans who experienced an occupational exposure.