Of all occupations exposing workers to asbestos on a daily basis, the military holds perhaps the highest risk. Thirty percent of all cases of mesothelioma occur to veterans of the military. Asbestos was used in the military because of the material’s unique ability to resist heat and excellent insulating capabilities. The unique capabilities of asbestos served to be extremely useful particularly on ships and aircraft. This was because it was necessary to use intense heat to run equipment in those areas and asbestos was used in many cases to protect workers from the extreme conditions.
The adverse health effects of asbestos were not widely known until the late 1970s, so military working before that time was heavily exposed. The most extensive use of asbestos was during World War II and the Korean Conflict, but it has been used for several decades during other wars as well. In fact, it is still being used in foreign countries where the use is not regulated. The original intent of using asbestos was to protect workers, but it inadvertently did the opposite by exposing them to an extremely harmful product. Asbestos exposure would later cause life-threatening mesothelioma, irreversible cancer.
You may have heard military asbestos exposure being compared to Agent Orange exposure which caused such a broad range of diseases that included cancer. Agent Orange is an herbicide that was used during the Vietnam War to remove leaves from trees so that enemies could not hide. The cancer-causing chemicals were used for about 10 years. Asbestos was also used during the Vietnam War. The dangerous asbestos products, however, were not strictly used during war-times but were also used in homes, schools and several other locations on a daily basis. Both exposures have had severe consequences for thousands of people.