Part Three in a Series About Asbestos and the Military – What You Need to Know

In our posts about asbestos in the armed forces, we have pointed out how our dedicated service men and women were exposed to the deadly fiber in the United States Navy and Army. Microscopic asbestos fibers, used in military applications for construction and insulation from the 1930s through the early 1990s, were released into the air when disturbed or worn away with use. Those fibers were then ingested or breathed deep into the lungs of our military service personnel where they settled for years, sometimes decades, creating scar tissue which slowly impeded their ability to breathe and could eventually cause asbestosis or lung cancer, even the deadly cancer known as mesothelioma.

Known to be toxic by the manufacturers who used it in products they provided to the U.S. military, asbestos was employed in practically every facet of military construction in every branch of the armed forces because of its valuable insulating and fire-resistant properties.

The lawyers at Baron & Budd never sue the United States military.

We sue the manufacturers who put asbestos into products that were used in the construction of everything from cockpit heating systems to insulation for cargo bays. This blog post examines how Air Force veterans were exposed to toxic asbestos.

By the time the Air Force was designated as an independent branch of the United States military in 1947, the use of asbestos products supplied by American manufacturers to the armed forces was already widespread. Valued for its tensile strength and lightweight, its fire resistance and superior sound and heat insulating characteristics, asbestos fibers were incorporated into all manner of materials used in the construction of Air Force bases and radar stations on American soil and around the world, including Buckley, Chanute, Ellsworth, Tinker and Williams Air Force bases, among many others.

The presence of asbestos at Air Force facilities was confirmed by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention in 2002, when a plan was put into place to abate the widespread contamination.  At that time, the CDC reported that building insulation, floor tile and adhesive, wallboard, plaster and pipe insulation at Burns Air Force Base in southeast Oregon contained up to 60% amosite and chrysotile asbestos fibers.

At Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, Illinois, which was closed in 1993, over 6,000 feet of asbestos-covered steam-pipes were removed. All that pipe insulation was above ground where it had become frayed by wear and tear. As the insulation deteriorated, asbestos fibers were released into the air, both outdoors and inside buildings, where it was undoubtedly breathed or ingested by hundreds of military personnel over the years. Additional underground steam tunnels spread across Chanute’s 640 acres, which still contain massive amounts of asbestos insulation in various states of disintegration, are slated for demolition in 2015.

In addition to their housing, offices, eating and recreational spaces, Air Force personnel were exposed to asbestos in the following ways:

Aircraft Maintenance Technicians were responsible for the upkeep and safety of military planes. Some of their duties included adjusting, repairing and overhauling aircraft engines, maintaining hydraulic and pneumatic systems, changing aircraft batteries, adjusting and changing brake pads and maintaining other aircraft equipment, much of which contained asbestos components. Asbestos blankets served as heat shields for engines and were used inside the plane’s “skin” to keep the cockpit and cargo bays a habitable temperature at high altitudes. Engine valves were made tight using asbestos rope which was packed around valve stems and into pipe joints to prevent leaks. Hoses and wiring were coated with asbestos insulation to prevent electrical shorts and heat loss. Asbestos-laden adhesives and epoxies were used to seal breaches in aircraft fuselage, wings and tail sections.

Air Force Vehicle Technicians tended to the repair and maintenance of the Air Force’s extensive fleet of transport vehicles. These mechanics regularly ground vehicular brake and clutch rotors smooth, releasing asbestos fibers into the air all around them. They used air hoses to blow the residual fibers away from the discs to ensure a smooth, clean surface for the new brake pads or clutch facings to adhere to. Liners consisting of asbestos insulation were installed in a vehicle’s hood to protect it from heat damage caused from the high temperatures generated by combustion engines. And numerous engine components, such as valve stems, were sealed with asbestos rope packing or gasket material to make them leak-proof.

Aircraft Control and Warning Radar Operators maintained and controlled numerous radar stations throughout the United States in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, all of which were built using asbestos construction materials. The Burns radar station in Oregon, which was closed by the Air Force in 1970, was actually declared a public health hazard in 2002 when high levels of airborne asbestos fibers, among other contaminants, were found all over the abandoned facility, both indoors and out. Despite signs posted by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality warning of the extreme risk of asbestos exposure, the heavily vandalized base was a popular hangout for area teenagers before most of the asbestos was abated in 2004.

In 1994 the U.S. Air Force developed guidelines for eradicating asbestos from its facilities and established requirements to “incorporate…asbestos management principles and practices into all Air Force programs”, according to the study. By then thousands of servicemen and women had passed through the doors of these bases and worked on or in its aircraft and vehicles, exposing them to the potentially harmful effects of asbestos fiber. These are the military personnel facing asbestos-related illnesses now.

If you or one of your parents served in the Air Force during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or 1980s and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please contact the mesothelioma lawyers at Baron & Budd to receive a completely confidential evaluation.

Your country appreciates the sacrifices you made to protect and defend its citizens. A grateful nation should not have put its service members at risk for exposure to the deadly toxin asbestos. You will not be asked to sue the government or the military. We pursue compensation from the asbestos manufacturers who knew the danger of asbestos but used it in their products, anyway, to the detriment of thousands of dedicated service personnel.