Asbestos was considered the "miracle" material Between World War II and the late-1970s. Being versatile and cheap, it abounded the construction market, which led to mandating it on all Navy ships to insulate pipes, turbines, pumps, and other heat-sensitive areas like boiler rooms.
Besides being affordable, asbestos has many properties that fit shipbuilders' needs: it resists corrosion, chemical damage, and high temperatures. More than 300 asbestos-containing materials were known to be used in naval ships until the mid-1970s, increasing the risk of veterans developing diseases caused by military asbestos exposure.
Generally, Navy personnel worked in enclosed spaces without proper ventilation, an ideal environment for enlisted sailors to inhale asbestos fibers. Once inhaled or ingested, the body can't eliminate the asbestos fibers. They attach to the lining of major organs, such as the heart and the lungs, or in the abdomen. Over time, the attached asbestos fibers will scar organ linings, creating cancerous tumors. Prolonged asbestos exposure can cause asbestos-related cancers like:
- lung cancer
- bronchial cancer
- laryngeal cancer
- pharyngeal cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
- colorectal cancer
- esophageal cancer
- urogenital cancer
Depending on their job on ships, certain Navy veterans are more at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases than others. Boiler Technician (BT) was one of the service categories with a high risk of exposure to asbestos fibers. Other Navy jobs with an increased likelihood of asbestos exposure include:
Because asbestos was present almost everywhere, from engine rooms to dining halls and sleeping quarters, nobody aboard could avoid being exposed to it. Asbestos lagging was the Navy's primary use of asbestos on ships. The insulating wrap around the pipes was a genuine concern for veterans, as these pipes passed through most areas of the vessel. Any damage to the pipe coatings caused asbestos fibers to become airborne, placing everyone nearby in danger.
Boiler Technicians Were in Increased Danger of Inhaling Asbestos Fibers
Boiler Technicians or boiler tenders had technical responsibilities but also performed heavy physical work when required. Their duties included operating steam-producing equipment of propulsion engines and steam-driven electric power generators, boiler repairs, and maintenance along with pumps and associated machinery.
BTs were also responsible for managing and maintaining the steam cycle in a propulsion plant outside of the turbines, including:
- water chemistry
- combustion controls
- daily operations
- proper startup and shutdowns
Repairing and testing the fireroom (boiler room) equipment involved work with asbestos-containing parts such as valves and gaskets. Asbestos wasn't considered dangerous, so BTs weren't equipped with protective masks or other face coverings. Maintaining and repairing condensers, evaporators, various kinds of heaters, and pumps meant doing pipe fitting - it implied working around or with asbestos and potentially releasing the fibers into the air.
BTs were required to know how to work with standard hand and power tools - the risk of asbestos exposure was further increased by the equipment, as heavy-impact instruments like a pneumatic hammer or expanding tools can disturb the asbestos insulation and increase the danger of inhaling asbestos fibers.
BTs encountered asbestos insulation when repairing boilerplates or laying out heavy sheet metal work. Ship maintenance procedures also involved BTs taking part in scrapping and then rebuilding. It meant welding and fitting with an oxy-acetylene torch, working with blacksmith's tools -forge, anvils, chipping and caulking instruments - all contributing to releasing asbestos fibers into the air. Scrapping and rebuilding on a ship exposed BTs to asbestos over a long period, as these works can last for months. Given that asbestos-related diseases stem from longtime asbestos exposure, BTs took significant risks without even knowing.
Veterans Affected by Asbestos Exposure Should Address the Related Health Damages on Time
Asbestos-related conditions have a long latency period, and because of it, they often go undetected until advanced stages. The best is to call the doctor and schedule a screening if experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- pain in the chest or shoulder
- persistent dry cough
- shortness of breath
- respiratory system complications
- night sweats
- general weakness
- unintentional weight loss
Seeking professional help before the illness becomes difficult to treat can significantly prolong life expectancy. Taking action at the first signs is essential, as non-cancerous asbestos-related diseases have the potential to turn into cancer. The irreversible processes of scarring caused by asbestos fibers can lead to the development of non-cancerous asbestos diseases like:
Misdiagnosis is common when dealing with diseases caused by asbestos exposure, resulting in limited treatment options for patients. Asbestos-related conditions are complex, and most doctors easily misread the symptoms, so asking for a second or even a third doctor's opinion outside the VA is crucial for a precise diagnosis and the best suitable treatment.
A Malignant Asbestos-Related Disease May Qualify You for VA Compensations
The Navy began to limit the amount of asbestos to which servicemen and women were exposed in the late 1970s. However, the damage had already been done, as thousands of Navy personnel had already been exposed to the asbestos fibers by then.
If you, a fellow service member, or a loved one were exposed to asbestos while serving in the Navy and have developed an asbestos-related cancerous disease, you may be eligible for compensation from the VA. Should you consider taking legal action and filing a claim, we can connect you with experienced attorneys ready to help with the documentation and represent you during the process, saving you precious time to focus on your treatment and recovery.