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From the 1930s through the 1970s, the U.S. military was one of the nation's largest users of asbestos. In fact, every branch of the military used asbestos in some capacity. Given that, it's no surprise that nearly 30 percent of Americans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma have served in the armed forces at some point in their careers.
Naval veterans are particularly at risk for developing mesothelioma, as they were exposed to asbestos on ships, where the substance was widely used to insulate the boilers and engines essential for their operations. Asbestos was also used in ammunition storage units, sleeping quarters, and mess halls. Asbestos was even sprayed on naval ships' hulls as a fire retardant.
While those working on the ships were affected by asbestos, so were workers actually building them. In preparing for World War II, the Navy commissioned thousands of new ships. As a result, thousands of tons of asbestos were used in building these ships, putting four million workers in harm's way.
Given that amount of asbestos, the risk of dying of mesothelioma contracted from exposure to the material was almost as high as the risk of dying in combat. The mesothelioma death rate among shipbuilders and repair personnel was 14 per 1,000, while the combat death rate was 18 per 1,000.
Asbestos appeared in many parts of military life. It was used as a flame retardant in many of the aircraft designed for military operations, as it was incorporated into brakes, gaskets, cargo bays, and engine shields. Asbestos was also used in trucks and tanks, particularly in brake clutch systems that needed to withstand friction.
The material was also commonly found in military barracks, mess halls, and administrative buildings. Asbestos was a component in more than 300 commercial construction materials, including cement, vinyl, floor tiles, roof shingles, drywall, and stucco. Accordingly, thousands of military personnel were exposed to the fibers, meaning that thousands have developed mesothelioma.
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