A recent study by Vanderbilt University found a significantly higher rate of mesothelioma mortality among Navy veterans who worked in areas that had a high potential for asbestos exposure.
While the link between asbestos and mesothelioma has been known for years, the study offers stark correlation between cause and effect.
55 percent of deaths
The study focused on those who were in the service between 1945 and 1962 and were among the more than 250,000 troops exposed to radiation at atomic bomb tests in Nevada and the Pacific Proving Grounds.
In addition to looking at the health outcomes of those exposed to radiation while serving in the four services, the study offered illumination to asbestos exposure among those serving in the Navy.
Because of the detailed database available to researchers, they were able to link health outcomes to military activities. The Navy frequently used asbestos in the construction and operation of its ships.
The most dangerous professions
While only 20 percent of sailors had jobs with high potential for exposure to asbestos – machinist’s mate, pipe fitter, boiler technician, water tender and firefighter – those sailors accounted for 55 percent of mesothelioma deaths.
Army, Air Force and Marine veterans showed no increase in mesothelioma deaths. Veterans who served in positions with little or no exposure to asbestos also showed no increase in mesothelioma mortality.
The Navy used asbestos in ships and submarines for insulation and fire protection despite a warning from the Navy Surgeon General in 1939 about the dangers of asbestosis. The service stopped using asbestos in 1980.
Asbestosis takes at least 10 years from exposure to develop. Mesothelioma takes between 20 and 50 years to develop after exposure to asbestos. It’s important for Navy veterans to have frequent physicals to check for mesothelioma – often it is found only after it is too advanced for productive treatment.