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IAVA | November 28, 2018

Read: Veterans & Asbestos Exposure: Looking at Asbestos Sites by State for Healthy Lung Month

As asbestos continues to make headlines in recent news, it becomes more important to understand the threats associated with this toxin. From recent findings in Playskool crayons to the vast history of occupational exposure, asbestos causes uninterrupted harm for generations of communities.

November marks Lung Cancer Awareness Month, established by the American Lung Association to garner awareness for respiratory health. Diseases of the lungs and airways are serious, and can occur in many forms from cystic fibrosis to sarcoidosis. Pleural mesothelioma is another lung disease caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers which later develops into a rare cancer within the lining of the lungs.

Veterans & Asbestos Exposure:

Veterans are the most disproportionately affected by mesothelioma cancers. Military service members have historically been at a higher risk to develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases as a result of asbestos exposure during active service. In fact, 30 percent of all Americans diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer are veterans.

Asbestos, the only known cause of mesothelioma, was used across the United States military in many varying applications. The natural mineral was accessible, low-cost, and possessed superior qualities including strength, fire-resistance and insulation abilities. Before research understood the health threats of the fibrous material it was an obvious product of choice for military growth between World War II and the Vietnam War.

Asbestos materials are present in a number of locations in Iraq, which was a major importer of asbestos and has no legal bans or restrictions on the use of these materials. In warzones, buildings are often destroyed or seriously decaying, which can release fibers like asbestos into the air. Inhaling airborne asbestos fibers and dust while searching buildings, conducting missions, and navigating war debris threatens U.S. troops in a less advertised way than many might initially think.

Along with safety equipment and precautions, troops who have toured the Middle East should be screened for respiratory disease upon returning to the United States. Due to mesothelioma having a prolonged latency period, regular checkups concerning respiratory health should continue every few years.

Where asbestos exposure commonly occurs on the home front

Military Bases
Air Force bases and naval shipyards are responsible for the highest concentration of asbestos exposure among military personnel. The United States Navy faces the highest levels of risk for mesothelioma. Asbestos was a key component in over 300 materials used aboard Navy ships.

Industrial Sites
Plants, factories, and manufacturing companies including chemical plants, oil refineries, power facilities and steel mills have historically seen high use of asbestos, leading to high rates of mesothelioma development. Today, occupants that have taken over these aged spaces face an increased level of asbestos exposure related threats. Asbestos can be avoidable when first identified and then properly disposed of.

Common Grounds
Frequently visited places including homes, vehicles, and schools present uncertain risks. Antique and classic auto parts such as brakes, clutches and gaskets once commonly contained asbestos as well. Dated homes pose the highest risk for civilian exposure, as any house built before 1980 poses high risk of containing asbestos. Because asbestos was a common additive in insulation, tiling, roofing, cement, and siding, many older school buildings still contain these original materials increasing possible exposure rates.

Check out the visual guide below to see the concentration of asbestos sites laid out by state. To learn more about the specific exposure sites that drive these alarming numbers head over to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

Asbestos Exposure

— This post written by Charles MacGregor of

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