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Veterans and in-service asbestos exposure: 3 things to know

Military service is a privilege that comes with all sorts of peril. One of the risks that ought to be better known is in-service asbestos exposure.

Such exposure can lead to potentially deadly asbestos-related disease, including lung cancer, pleural mesothelioma (cancer that grows in the thin linings between the lungs), and peritoneal mesothelioma (cancer that grows in the lining of the abdominal cavity).

How can this risky exposure happen, when it's been known for so long that asbestos is so dangerous? Here are three things to know as you as you assess your personal situation.

The latency period for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases is long.

As we discussed in a post last spring, symptoms of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases do not occur immediately after inhaling asbestos fibers. There is generally a long latency period of20 to 50 years.

This means that if you or someone close to you served in the military in the 1970s or before, exposure may have occurred (and probably did) way back then.

To be sure, military service now entails much less exposure to asbestos containing material (ACM), at least when you're stateside. But that can change quickly when you're deployed. And past exposure continues to take an awful toll on many veterans and their families.

Certain military occupational specialties are more at risk than others.

Just as in civilian life, some job activities contain much more risk of asbestos exposure than others. Jobs that the Veterans' Affairs Department has noted can be especially risky for asbestos exposure include:

  • Building demolition
  • Installation of flooring, insulation, roofing and other construction products
  • Shipyard work and pipefitting

Of course, where you are deployed is also a factor. If you served in Iraq or somewhere else where you were around older, damaged buildings, you could have been exposed there.

Navy veterans were often exposed to asbestos containing materials, even into the 1990s.

All branches of service have asbestos risks. Because of frequent use of asbestos in shipbuilding, however, Navy veterans have an increased risk of harmful asbestos exposure.

The Navy used asbestos containing material (ACM) widely in ships built before the mid-70s. It was used not only in engine and boiler rooms, but also for fire-safety reasons below decks, in mess halls and sleeping quarters.

Even into the 1990s, asbestos was often used in ship building. And even when its use was discontinued, many sailors who were tasked with removing asbestos on ships became exposed.

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