Asbestos was present in large amounts on most Navy ships built between the 1930s and late 1970s. The need for a cheap, versatile, and abundant insulator rose when many shipyards increased their production of warships for World War II. Asbestos was already on the market and met all those requirements.
Vessels of the Second World War operated with boilers, turbines, pumps, incinerators, and other heavy-duty equipment that relied on asbestos for safe, long-term use. It put all personnel on the ships in danger of being exposed to asbestos without their knowledge, including the electronics technicians.
The hazardous mineral wrapped the pipes that ran in every part of the ship, from the sleeping quarters to the mess hall, endangering the health of thousands of Navy veterans. When disturbed, asbestos may break and release microscopic fibers into the air, which can remain airborne for hours and pose a high risk of inhaling or ingesting them for everyone onboard. Once in the body, the tiny asbestos particles lodge themselves in the lining of major organs, causing asbestos-related diseases decades after the veterans' service. In some cases, the toxic fibers are at the origin of life-threatening malignant diseases like:
- gastrointestinal cancer
- esophageal cancer
- pharyngeal cancer
- bronchial cancer
- laryngeal cancer
- lung cancer
- colorectal cancer
- urogenital cancer
Former Navy service members diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer may qualify for claims and be compensated if their medical documents state one of the abovementioned cancers.
Increased Risk of Asbestos Exposure Due to Maintenance Routine
When encased in products, asbestos doesn't represent an immediate danger. Still, if disturbed, it becomes friable and causes dust formed of airborne microscopic fibers, increasing the chances of inhalation or ingestion for everyone around.
Ongoing ship maintenance meant handling asbestos regularly and made avoiding exposure impossible for all onboard. The long work hours in enclosed and often poorly ventilated places formed an ideal environment for inhaling the microscopic asbestos particles floating in the air.
Electronics technicians (ET) typically worked in the ship's Combat Systems department, ensuring readiness for combat operations. The ET rating derived from the former radarman rating and was established to assign radar maintenance duties to enlisted sailors trained in:
- electronics and electronic circuitry
- fiber optics
- troubleshooting techniques
- test equipment
ETs maintained combat readiness across various complex ship and aircraft systems, risking asbestos exposure while working in enclosed spaces below the deck. With electronics everywhere on the vessels, ETs carried out assignments all over the ship - which further increased the danger of being around asbestos. ETs performed jobs throughout the Navy's fleet of surface ships, including aircraft carriers, cruisers, and destroyers, or worked at communication and repair activities ashore. They maintained, repaired, calibrated, tuned, and adjusted apparatus like:
- long-range radar
- test equipment
- equipment for sending and receiving messages
As all enlisted personnel, ETs were also required to fulfill watch duty and participate in general maintenance assignments. The rate is sea-intensive, so they've spent most of their service onboard, meeting the challenges presented by routinely performing physical work in asbestos-contaminated environments on the ships.
Proper Diagnosis of Asbestos-Related Diseases Can Prolong Veterans' Life
Because asbestos wasn't considered dangerous, no protective equipment was given to those who handled the material during ship maintenance or repairs - cutting, sawing, or drilling through insulation released considerable amounts of hazardous fibers into the air. The lack of protective equipment while working with asbestos led to veterans developing life-threatening diseases years after service on the vessels built before the 1980s. It is crucial to seek professional help and tell the doctor about your military service when experiencing:
- loss of appetite
- unintentional weight loss
- persistent dry cough
- muscle aches
- clubbing of the fingers
- pain in the chest or shoulder
- shortness of breath
The biological mechanisms of asbestos-related diseases are complex and involve a multilevel process of interactions between genetic factors and other possible exposures. This is why many doctors may easily misread the symptoms and conclude wrong diagnoses like asthma or COPD. Speaking about past asbestos exposure is essential to avoid misdiagnosis and begin the adequate treatment that stops the disease from progressing. Because asbestos illnesses give signs only after decades from the initial exposure, it is essential to make periodic lung checkups. Chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests can reveal asbestos fibers in the lungs, a clear evidence of asbestos exposure. The toxic asbestos fibers are also the cause of benign diseases like:
- rounded atelectasis
- pleural plaques
- pleural effusion
- pleural thickening
- pulmonary fibrosis
- lung nodules and spots
- chronic bronchitis
- recurrent pneumonia
Although these conditions don't qualify a veteran to receive compensation, they should be kept under observation, as non-cancerous asbestos diseases have the potential to develop into cancer. It's advisable to ask for a second or third opinion from a pulmonary specialist outside the VA to ensure an exact evaluation and diagnosis - it could disclose asbestos-related cancer that makes a veteran eligible to file claims and receive monetary compensation and lead to establishing the best course of treatment.
Assisting Navy Veterans to Receive the Benefits They Are Eligible For
If you served in the U.S. Navy from the 1930s to the early 1980s, we strongly recommend you be aware of any changes in your health and seek medical attention when persistent symptoms occur, no matter how insignificant they may seem. Former service members exposed to asbestos during their time in the Navy and who developed asbestos-related cancer can pursue compensation by taking legal steps if they have a documented diagnosis of their malignant illness.
Many Navy veterans may have yet to be informed about the dangers of asbestos on the ships and the chances that their everyday routine increased exposure to the dangerous asbestos particles. We offer assistance by putting them in touch with expert attorneys who will assist them in getting the deserved indemnification.