Part Three in a Series About Asbestos and the Military – What You Need to Know
In our continuing series about asbestos exposure in the armed forces, we have taken a look at how our military personnel were exposed to asbestos in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. But members of the United States Coast Guard have also played a significant role in the defense of our great nation – and were equally at risk of contracting the deadly asbestos cancer known as mesothelioma.
The U.S. Coast Guard is simultaneously a military force and a federal law enforcement agency dedicated to maritime safety, security and stewardship missions. Interestingly, in times of peace the USCG operates as part of the Department of Homeland Security, enforcing the nation’s laws at sea, protecting the marine environment, and saving lives. In times of war, the Coast Guard serves as part of the Navy Department. These roles make this particular branch of our armed forces unique in the nation and in the world.
Members of the U.S. Coast Guard, like those in all branches of military service, were exposed to asbestos in the normal discharge of their duties. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral which, when woven into fiber and incorporated into merchandise throughout the last century, provided heat and sound resistance, fire retardancy, tensile strength and lightweight volume to many products made by American manufacturers that were ideally suited for use in combat, as well as in the construction and maintenance of seagoing vessels built for the Navy and the Coast Guard.
As these asbestos construction and insulating materials became worn with age and were scuffed, scraped, sanded, sawed, drilled and cut with use or for replacement, asbestos fibers were released into the air where Coast Guard crews ate, slept and worked. Ingestion and inhalation of these dangerous strands allowed them to work their way into the deep tissues of the lungs and peritoneal cavities of our servicemen and women, where years later they threaten to cause impaired breathing and asbestosis or worse: lung cancer and the deadly asbestos cancer mesothelioma.
Asbestos was used to line the bulkheads surrounding the boiler and engine rooms aboard larger watercraft, as well as for soundproofing and fireproofing throughout the ship. Asbestos lagging covered steam pipes which carried heat and energy everywhere aboard these ocean-going vessels, through mess halls and into sleeping areas. As the old pipe-covering began to crumble with age and wear, asbestos fibers sloughed off and become airborne, where they were easily breathed in or ingested by the crew. Gaskets and valve-stem packing used in all the pipe connections contained asbestos, too. When they were replaced, the Coast Guard repairmen onboard, known by their military ratings as damage controlmen or machinery technicians, had to chisel out the old, frayed gasket material and rope packing to create a smooth surface so the new gaskets and valve-packing could make a tight seal. This caused a lot of asbestos dust to rise into the air, right where the crew members were breathing it!
Marine Inspectors: In addition to its other roles, the United States Coast Guard is responsible for the inspection of America’s commercial vessels, our ports and facilities, and visiting foreign vessels. A study conducted from 1942 to 1970 showed that Coast Guard marine inspectors suffered the highest mortality rate compared to all other officers in the Guard. The study found that USCG inspectors were exposed to many toxic chemicals, including asbestos, and were more likely to develop a detrimental disease as a result.
Still an issue: On May 2, 2014, the Coast Guard issued publication CGTTP 4-11.1, a guide to asbestos management tactics, techniques and procedures. In this paper, the USCG revealed that during a safety check of one of its construction-tenders in March of 2012, “significant deterioration of vermiculite coatings on barges used by the tenders” was identified, which led to a class-wide asbestos assessment. The result found nearly 5,000 square feet of damaged, friable asbestos aboard the construction-tender fleet. The assessment also found an absence of formal training for asbestos control coordinators, few documented inventories of asbestos material within the Coast Guard and a lack of coating documentation for cutter hulls. These revelations made clear the need to readdress how asbestos was managed throughout the United States Coast Guard. Publication of TTP 4-11.1 was issued two years later to provide guidance on developing, implementing and maintaining an asbestos management plan to control asbestos exposure in the workplace. Asbestos control coordinators were designated for every unit. Asbestos-containing material inventories were conducted throughout the Guard.
We tend to think of asbestos as a danger long ago eradicated in this country. But as this recent Coast Guard report reveals, the presence of asbestos in military applications is still very much a threat to the health and safety of our armed forces. And, amazingly, it’s not just last-century materials turning up in today’s military. Asbestos is still not banned in the U.S. and products incorporating asbestos fibers can be ordered online from a number of foreign entities. Baron & Budd believes that the use of asbestos products should be outlawed everywhere. If you would like to join the fight to ban the sale of asbestos products in America, click here.
You will not be asked to sue the government or the military
We pursue compensation from the asbestos manufacturers who were well aware of the deadly hazard of asbestos but continued to use it in their products because it was not as expensive as other, less dangerous types of insulation. The men and women of the United States Coast Guard work every day to ensure protection of our environment. The American manufacturers who continued to use asbestos in their products after its danger became known should not have knowingly contaminated theirs.