Since asbestos was a heavily used material in shipbuilding during the last century, everyone who served on a Navy vessel was exposed to this carcinogen to a greater or lesser extent. However, some occupations, including radiomen, were at a higher risk than others.
With asbestos insulation present in considerable amounts on Navy ships and maintenance disturbing it regularly, all personnel fulfilling a duty in the ship's enclosed spaces were in danger of inhaling or ingesting toxic asbestos fibers and developing an asbestos-related disease decades after discharge.
The inhaled microscopic fibers get caught and lodge in the lining of major organs, irritating the tissues and causing inflammation and scarring. Over time, these degenerative processes may facilitate cell mutations and the forming of tumors, leading to asbestos-related malignant illnesses like:
- pharyngeal cancer
- laryngeal cancer
- bronchial cancer
- lung cancer
- esophageal cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
- colorectal cancer
- urogenital cancer
Former Navy service members diagnosed with cancer mentioned above qualify for compensation and are eligible to file claims with asbestos trust funds and the VA.
Radiomen Risked Asbestos Exposure in the Communication Center
Specific jobs onboard the ships built before the 80s took place in poorly ventilated enclosed spaces where being around asbestos was virtually impossible. While on duty in the ship's control room, radiomen were handling asbestos products without their knowledge. For instance, the bases of radio tubes were made with plastic molding compounds, which often had asbestos as filler. By working with such radio tubes, radiomen were inevitably in contact with asbestos.
Daily usage causes wear and tear on products made with asbestos, increasing the danger of releasing asbestos fibers into the air. A 1972 Navy training manual instructed radiomen always to install a heat shield made of asbestos to protect the heat-sensitive parts of the equipment.
Besides sending and receiving messages by code or radio phone, radiomen's responsibilities included:
- maintaining the communication equipment
- repairing equipment parts
- standing watches
Radioman Ed Chlapowski, who transmitted the famous warning message "This is no drill. Pearl Harbor is being attacked by the forces of the Imperial government of Japan. This is no drill." on December 7, 1941, subsequently developed mesothelioma and passed away in 2011 due to this unmerciful disease. The asbestos fibers he had constantly inhaled remained stuck to his lungs and gave way to cancer several decades after he retired from the Navy.
Testimonials of Veterans Who Served as Radio Operators in the U.S. Navy
The most common type of asbestos used in electrical wiring was crocidolite, also called blue asbestos, considered the most hazardous type of asbestos in the amphibole family because its extremely fine sharp fibers are particularly easy to inhale or ingest.
"I'm a Vietnam-era veteran. I was on the Columbus, 1974 and '75. I was a radioman, and I worked in the transmitter room. I remember back then, we would have to dust every day; it was like dandruff, this stuff falling from the pipes. We knew it was asbestos, but we didn't know it was bad for us. I remember we would have to clean all of our equipment daily because of white powder dust", said another veteran exposed to asbestos while serving aboard the USS Columbus (CG-12).
"As a radioman, I was responsible for repairing and maintaining the ship's communication equipment. That involved working with asbestos-containing materials. I recall sleeping in bunks where asbestos-wrapped pipes were placed inches from our mouths and noses. I remember some pipes carried steam and cold water wrapped in an asbestos blanket", said a Navy veteran who served in the US Navy for 8 months.
Offering Support for Navy Veterans to Successfully File Claims
If you worked as a radioman in the U.S. Navy between 1920 and 1980, we strongly advise you to pay close attention to your health by undergoing annual medical examinations to make sure the asbestos you breathed in has not caused any damage to your lungs. In the unfortunate case that you have already been diagnosed with an asbestos-related cancerous disease, please keep in mind that you can recover financial compensation by filing a claim with the VA. The money you will receive every month will also help you cover the cost of your medical care and treatment. We can help by putting you in touch with skilled attorneys ready to streamline your case.