Serving in the military aboard a Navy ship carries an abundance of tasks and stressors. So it’s fair that asbestos was probably not on the minds of Navy officers and other military personnel during their service.
But years after their service ended, that constant asbestos exposure could lead to any number of life-changing health concerns. One of the most severe is mesothelioma.
A new study reveals the level of asbestos’ impact on Navy veterans developing this rare cancer, which has a disproportionate number of cases involving military personnel. The research examined the effect of radiation exposure from nuclear weapons testing.
The study explicitly looked at the “mortality ratios” among veterans to uncover if the radiation dose during testing was unsafe. Asbestos on Navy ships was the explanation for the higher-than-usual mortality rate due to mesothelioma.
If you’re a veteran with mesothelioma, you might be entitled to help. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers monthly payment to all veterans with mesothelioma primarily caused by their service. Email our VA claims agent and retired Navy lieutenant commander Carl Jewett at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions.
Asbestos Exposure From Naval Ships
Mesothelioma is scarce in the United States. Between 2,500 and 3,000 new cases occur each year. Around half of them involve military veterans, which is an excessive percentage.
Veterans make up around 10% of the U.S. adult population. Such a low representation does not coincide with the approximately 1,000-1,500 mesothelioma cases each year. Studies like this nuclear testing site report have long backed up the link between military service and this asbestos cancer.
Commander Jewett, who served for 24 years in the Navy, had assignments on numerous fast-attack submarines. He’s well aware in retrospect that he and his shipmates were exposed to asbestos.
“We have a lot of veterans who were exposed to asbestos while they were in the military,” Commander Jewett said on a podcast interview with Mesothelioma Guide, “especially Navy and Coast Guard because of the close confines of a ship and the extensive use of asbestos throughout that ship.”
Asbestos is a fire-resistant insulant that can protect Navy ships from damage. It was considered a magic mineral, and the U.S. military relied on it for everything from electrical components to boilers on ships. Asbestos’ presence in the military is why veterans with mesothelioma can apply for VA compensation benefits.
“You can imagine every pipe in every one of our ships was insulated with asbestos,” Commander Jewett said. “We used it for gaskets, valve-packing materials, hull insulation and … non-military applications like floor tiles, ceiling tiles, joint compounds, drywall, shingles, and siding.
“The stuff was used everywhere where fire protection or insulation was a requirement, and the military has a lot of those applications.”
Study Examined Radiation Exposure Risk From Nuclear Weapons Testing
The study looked at 114,270 male military members who worked at nuclear testing sites from 1945 through the 20th century. The primary two locations were the Pacific Proving Grounds and the Nevada Test Site.
The Pacific Proving Grounds, which were located on or around Pacific islands, conducted testing from 1946-1962. These tests often were underwater and involved Navy ships, which included military personnel.
The researchers followed the participants’ health up until 2010. The study concluded that there wasn’t a “statistically significant” radiation risk observed among the 114,270 nuclear weapons test site participants.
Among the mortality rates, mesothelioma had the highest of any condition or cancer. The 1.56 mortality rate means the number of deaths was around 56% higher than expected. Prostate cancer was the next highest, with a 1.13 mortality rate.
Show Sources & Author
- The changing face of America’s veteran population. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from:
https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/11/10/the-changing-face-of-americas-veteran-population/. Accessed: 07/01/2020.
- Mortality Among US Military Participants at Eight Aboveground Nuclear Weapons Test Series. International Journal of Radiation Biology. Retrieved from:
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32602389/. Accessed: 07/01/2020.