U.S. Navy vessels built before 1980 were preponderantly constructed with products containing asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral with a fibrous composition, responsible for the increasing number of veterans fighting various incapacitating illnesses today. Navy personnel deployed on these ships risked being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases decades after their service.
However, some naval vessels were built with glass-reinforced plastic, a versatile material composed of artificial mineral fibers strengthened with glass fiber. As wartime demanded building the ships rapidly, fiberglass was used throughout the naval vessels to replace asbestos in various applications. Consequently, those enrolled in the Navy had to face, besides asbestos exposure, the possibility to come in contact with fiberglass, as well.
Glass-reinforced plastic covered the wooden hull construction of specific ships like those in the mine countermeasures (MCM) force, and, in 1954, the Navy developed a fiberglass replacement for the aluminum fairwater for the submarines. But fiberglass was mainly used in manufacturing composites for hull protection:
- anti-corrosives against corrosion by seawater
- insulators for fireproofing structure parts
- coverings for improved thermal and acoustic performance
When handled forcibly, the material quickly bursts into dust that irritates the respiratory system. There was little to no consideration for the health effects of exposure to fiberglass until the harms of inhaled asbestos particles were identified in the early 1960s. Given that the number of asbestos-exposed individuals increased with the high demand for the mineral in shipbuilding, concerns emerged about the human health effects of fiberglass exposure. Results from medical investigations regarding asbestos-related lung and pleural disease were correlated with those of fiberglass exposure, and it resulted that they have a common ground in the decades-long latency period.
Fiberglass Dust, a Possible Cause of Navy Veterans' Severe Breathing Issues
Enlisted sailors doing maintenance tasks were directly exposed to asbestos and fiberglass. They usually did regular repairs on the ships without protective equipment, as dust wasn't considered a danger.
Fiberglass dust occurred during cutting and sanding operations with power tools in enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces, exposing everyone to inhaling the fine glass particles. Like with all dust created onboard, there was a good chance that the tiny particles entered the ventilation system and reached all parts of the ship, exposing everyone onboard.
When durable fibers like asbestos became suspected of being a carcinogen, regulating exposure to fiberglass dust became a necessity. Until the 1980s, fiberglass dust was regarded as a nuisance, and there was no regulation for exposure to such dust. The particular toxicity of certain insulating materials, including fibrous glass, came into the spotlight with an independent study based on relevant scientific literature. It revealed that the potential exposure of Navy personnel to fiberglass was higher than that experienced by workers involved in the manufacturing process.
Inhaling fiberglass can irritate the throat, nose, and mouth, but direct contact with the tiny strands also irritates the eyes and skin. Fiberglass particles are easily inhaled, and as air passage mucous is highly sensitive to foreign particles, they may inflame the cell membranes, resulting in bronchitis-like symptoms or abundant phlegm. In some cases, fiberglass fibers may end up in the lungs and enter the alveoli, although the body can eliminate the majority. When large amounts of airborne fiberglass are inhaled, acute inflammatory processes may occur, producing signs such as:
- frequent upper respiratory infections
- lung disease aggravation
- increase in asthma symptoms
Fiberglass fibers are purposefully broken up by manufacturers to make them shorter to be better processed and incorporated into products. Handling the material can lead to affections like:
- skin rashes and allergies upon direct contact
- stomach pain and intestine inflammation when ingested
Due to the fibrous nature of this material and how it interacts with the human body, there is potential for long-term health problems in those repeatedly exposed to fiberglass insulation over the long term. Although most types of fiberglass insulation are no longer made with carcinogenic chemicals, they were in the past, and the jury is still out on whether or not long-term fiberglass exposure can cause cancer.
Permanent Health Issues After Service on Navy Ships
Even though science discovered the devastating health effects of prolonged asbestos exposure towards the end of the 1930s, diseases stemming from it came into public view only later, and asbestos was still used for years. Therefore, veterans serving on Navy ships built before the 1980s faced a high risk of asbestos exposure and of developing asbestos-related cancers such as:
- urogenital cancer
- bronchial cancer
- lung cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
- pharyngeal cancer
- esophageal cancer
- colorectal cancer
- laryngeal cancer
Former service members diagnosed with these diseases are eligible for compensation and qualify for filing claims with the asbestos trust funds and the VA if they have medical documents stating the malignant condition.
Asbestos's negative impact on Navy personnel's health shows in the increasing number of veterans suffering from the consequences of prolonged exposure to these toxic fibers. Working and living around asbestos on naval vessels often causes non-cancerous asbestos diseases such as:
- rounded atelectasis
- pleural plaques
- pleural effusion
- pleural thickening
- pulmonary fibrosis
- lung nodules and spots
- chronic bronchitis
Even if these benign illnesses don't qualify a veteran for compensation, it is essential to regularly check them, as they have the tendency to evolve into cancer. Periodic chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests help discover if these conditions have turned cancerous, and a cancer diagnosis will make veterans eligible for claims.
Assisting Veterans Affected by Asbestos Exposure to Apply for Financial Compensation
Veterans of the Navy, Coast Guard, U.S. Army Transport Service, Merchant Marine, and Air Force diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer may apply for compensation to pay for their medical treatments, lost income, and other expenditures. Given that legal claims are subject to a statute of limitations, being informed about it prevents you from applying after the statute of limitations has expired and from situations where you cannot pursue compensation.
To prevent any problematic financial and emotional scenario resulting from unsuccessfully filing for the deserved remuneration, get in touch with a lawyer as soon as possible following your diagnosis. This way, you can rest assured knowing they'll handle everything on time. We can assist you in contacting legal experts ready to help with your case.