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Many people are already aware of the U.S. military’s extensive history involving the use of toxic substances, such as Agent Orange and trichloroethylene (TCE). However, few are aware of the military’s widespread use of toxic asbestos products.

Primarily between the 1930s and the 1970s, every division of the U.S. military used asbestos-contaminated products in its buildings and in every type of transportation. Asbestos was most commonly used for insulation in military housing and other buildings on military bases. The toxic mineral was also integrated in numerous other building materials, ranging from floor covering to plumbing equipment.

Because of its chemical structure, asbestos is a mineral that easily separates into microscopic fibers. The tiny particles can be readily inhaled when airborne, and can tend to adhere to the internal lining of the lungs, abdomen, and heart. The body experiences great difficulty in breaking down the fibers, which can accumulate and cause immense damage over time. Due to extended latency periods, ranging from 15 to 50 years, asbestos exposure can result in illness many decades after exposure.

Diseases caused by asbestos exposure primarily include asbestosis (a progressive pulmonary disease), lung cancer, and mesothelioma (a rare cancer that usually affects the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen). According to a startling statistic, veterans account for more than 30 percent of those suffering with mesothelioma. Most are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, which affects the mesothelial lining of the lungs. More specifically, Navy veterans have an elevated risk of developing asbestos-related illness in general, as sailors and shipyard workers account for 26 percent of mesothelioma cases, 16 percent of asbestos-induced lung cancer, and 13 percent of serious respiratory diseases. Unfortunately, this aggressive cancer rarely responds to mesothelioma treatment.

Asbestos graph

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