Following World War II, Navy service members were deeply affected by the environment in which they worked and lived, as they were exposed to asbestos on the ships they served on. Their health was altered unbeknownst to them because the inhaled asbestos fibers generated asbestos-related lung diseases and even cancer decades after their years in the military.
Because repair and maintenance constantly disturbed asbestos, it released microscopic fibers in the air, which reached every corner of their ships, making it impossible for Navy personnel to avoid inhaling or ingesting them. Moreover, they were in contact with many contaminated construction materials and asbestos-containing products without knowing of the health hazards they represented.
The poorly ventilated spaces below the deck increased the risk of asbestos exposure for those working long hours, adding to the chances of inhaling the microscopic fibers floating in the air. Once in the body, the toxic asbestos components lodge in the lining of major organs, irritating the tissues and causing scarring and inflammation. Over time, the constant irritation will eventually lead to cell mutation and tumors, which may develop into asbestos cancers like:
- pharyngeal cancer
- laryngeal cancer
- bronchial cancer
- lung cancer
- esophageal cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
- colorectal cancer
- urogenital cancer
Veterans diagnosed with these cancers qualify for compensation and expedited benefit claims if their medical documents state the malignant disease assessment.
Seamen were among those significantly threatened by the toxic mineral. They handled various activities aboard the ship, being in charge of their smooth operation while performing tasks related to deck maintenance and staff supervision. To gain experience and develop training abilities, they had to work with qualified military personnel, filling various roles. Their regular duties included:
- maintaining and repairing equipment
- operating telephone systems
- kitchen and cleaning tasks
- security watch or emergency alert
- participating in Navy ceremonies
Asbestos Exposure Was a Health Risk for Everyone Onboard
Alfred A., a seaman aboard the USS Saratoga (CV-3), explained how typical job duties unfolded: "We had to conserve the ship's external structure and pieces of equipment, understand how to control ropes and cables with their different uses, and be knowledgeable in all operational tasks that allowed us to qualify further. Little did we know of the health hazards and the regrettable effects that we would endure later on."