Asbestos Exposure Risks in Military Housing

Father in military uniform and daughter holding cardboard boxes near house with american flag, moving in or out of military house

In the United States, military occupations have the highest number of mesothelioma patients and roughly a third of all mesothelioma patients are veterans. Veterans, particularly those who served between the 1930s and 1980s, have been exposed to large amounts of asbestos on naval ships, in shipyards, in base barracks, and in military housing.

To this day, there is still asbestos present on and in these, with military housing having the least amount of asbestos abatement. According to a recent report from the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, U.S. military families are living in government-owned and operated housing that contains serious health and safety risks, including asbestos materials and products, lead-based paints, and radon.

Known Areas of Concern

A specific report came out about the inspection of eight military installations around the world that contained these harmful materials, including:

  • U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, Republic of Korea
  • U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, Germany
  • Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
  • Commander Fleet Activities, Yokosuka, Japan
  • Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan
  • Kadena Air Base, Japan
  • Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany
  • Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio

Five of these eight installations didn't have accurate records of where the asbestos was in the units, preventing accurate hazard reporting. At six of these locations, officials did not notify residents of the dangers, so they may still not be aware that they were exposed to asbestos. The scope of this report led to further investigations into the asbestos threat on military housing around the world.

Given what we know about the harmful effects of asbestos (it can be toxic when inhaled or ingested), you may be wondering why military housing, in particular, still has asbestos within its walls. Let's take a look.

Why the Military Used Asbestos to Begin With

It may be baffling to hear that the military has used asbestos in the past, given that it's a known human carcinogen. But it's important to note that the military didn't know the harmful effects of it before it was too late and many generations of individuals and families had been exposed to it. News of the harmful effects of asbestos came to light in the 1970s when the manufacturing companies that sold it were exposed and the truth came out. These manufacturers that sold asbestos to the military and other companies knew the dangers, and yet they pressed on and continued to sell it.

During the 20th century, the military and other organizations were drawn to asbestos because it was effective insulation that had desirable fire- and heat-resistant properties. The military, in particular, invested heavily in asbestos products and stock-piled them for future use before they were aware of the dangers. They used asbestos for:

  • Housing insulation
  • Piping and electrical wiring
  • Boiler room and engine room insulation
  • Heat shields and brake pads
  • Ropes and cabling

Asbestos was used in every branch of the military, with the highest risk of exposure being for U.S. Navy members and families, as well as shipyard workers and their families.

Why Asbestos in Military Housing is Still a Threat

Asbestos is not easily removed, and it requires an asbestos abatement team to carefully handle its removal. Because it's not so easily removed and the military wants to prevent the disturbance of it (which leads to fibers floating around and increasing health risks), they have mostly left it in military housing. Asbestos hasn't been used in new military housing construction since the 1970s, but there are currently over 300,000 family housing units that still are suspected to contain asbestos that was installed in the original construction of the units. The location and condition of much of the asbestos that remains is unknown.

What the DOD is Doing to Mitigate Asbestos Hazards

As of 2020, the Department of Defense was still deliberating over a plan of action to mitigate the hazard of asbestos in military housing. Their recommendations thus far include:

  • Developing oversight policies and procedures to evaluate the management of health and safety hazards
  • Updating service policies regarding health and safety hazard management
  • Directing installation officials to coordinate asbestos abatement

What the Military is Doing to Compensate Veterans

Now that the military is aware of the dangers of asbestos, they have tasked Veterans Affairs (VA) with providing military members with the healthcare and compensation they need for any asbestos-related illnesses that have resulted from exposure during their military service. If you are a veteran suffering from an asbestos-related illness, we encourage you to contact the VA to get medical treatment covered. If you are a current military service member and you're concerned that you may develop an asbestos-related illness, contact the VA to try to arrange medical testing and monitoring services.

How You Can Receive Compensation for Asbestos Exposure

While the United States military has taken action to compensate their veterans and active service members for asbestos exposure and you aren't able to take action against the military, you can take action against the manufacturing companies who knowingly sold the military harmful asbestos-contaminated products. If you or a loved one served in the military and have received an asbestos-related diagnosis that is tied to military service, fill out our free case evaluation and we will get in touch with you to discuss your legal options!

We are a plaintiff-only personal injury law firm, based out of Chicago, Illinois. Unlike most other personal injury law firms, our team of 24 exceptional attorneys works tirelessly with our clients throughout the entire process of their case. This way, we can ensure our clients are getting the best representation by a team that cares.