Seabees and Asbestos Exposure

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The United States Navy Construction Battalion became known as the Seabees, whose motto was "We built, we fight". It was established in 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

People who worked as Seabees were recruited from construction trades. While their main duty was building, the work they had to perform was ranging from grading airstrips to conducting soil tests for amphibious landing zones. Between 1949 and 1953, there were 3 categories of Seabees:

  • Amphibious Construction Battalions
  • Naval Mobile Construction Battalions
  • Naval Underwater Construction Teams

Seabees played a major role in World War II and in the Korean War, as they were responsible with a wide variety of tasks. Because their primary task was building, they were exposed to tremendous amounts of asbestos, which have later greatly affected the health of some by leading to awful diseases such as lung cancer or mesothelioma. By handling asbestos-containing materials such as insulation, Seabees inevitably breathed in carcinogenic fibers which subsequently became stuck to the lining of their lungs. Since the body cannot eliminate asbestos, the toxic fibers they inhaled are still a danger for veterans who worked as Seabees, as the diseases mentioned above may develop within 20 to 50 years from the first exposure.

The following ratings were part of the Seabees, which also represented useful post-military careers:

    • Builders: As the largest part of the Naval Construction Force, builders had roles such as roofers, bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers, masons, painters and cabinet makers. They built a wide range of facilities, including shelters, wharves, bridges and other massive timber structures.
    • Construction Electricians: Responsible with building, maintaining and operating power production facilities and electrical distribution systems, construction electricians had duties such as installing, maintaining and repairing telephone systems and high and low voltage electrical power distribution networks, as well as splicing and laying electrical cables.
    • Construction Mechanics: They were maintaining and repairing heavy construction and automotive equipment including buses, dump trucks, bulldozers, rollers, cranes, backhoes, pile drivers and tactical vehicles.
    • Engineering Aides: The main duty of engineering aides was assisting construction engineers in developing final construction plans. The work they performed entailed conducting land surveys, preparing maps, sketches, drawings and blueprints, estimating costs and also performing quality assurance tests on common construction materials such as soils, concrete and asphalt.
    • Equipment Operators: Equipment Operators were driving heavy vehicles and construction equipment including trucks, bulldozers, backhoes, graders, forklifts, cranes and asphalt equipment.
    • Steel Workers: They rigged and operated special equipment used to build metal structures, laid out and fabricate structural steel and sheet metal and worked with concrete reinforcing steel bars. Furthermore, Steel Workers performed welding and cutting operations and read blueprints.
    • Utility Workers: This category of Seabees worked on plumbing and heating jobs, distribution systems and fuel storage and also performed other basic utility work. They were responsible with working on water treatment and distribution systems, air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, as well as sewage collecting and disposal facilities at Navy shore installations around the world.

During World War II, the Navy Construction Training Center trained 100,000 Seabees. Approximately 330,000 Seabees worked throughout the war on construction operations. If you were a Seabee and now experience symptoms such as chest pain, night sweats, difficulty breathing or a persisting cough, we strongly advise you to immediately seek medical help, as you may have developed a serious lung disease. In the unfortunate case you already have such a diagnosis, we encourage you to file a claim with the VA and recover the financial compensation you deserve, which will also help you cover the cost of your treatment.

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