Asbestos Exposure in the Marine Corps

The U.S. military used asbestos extensively from the 1930s to the 1970s, putting Marines at risk of asbestos exposure on land and sea. Marines were exposed to asbestos during deployments and peacetime operations, and even during their downtime.

Breathing in asbestos dust can cause mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer that primarily afflicts retired blue collar workers and veterans.

The executives of asbestos companies knew asbestos exposure was dangerous, but they covered up the risks when selling asbestos products to the military and the private sector.

Shipbuilders working for the U.S. were once the top consumers of asbestos products. Consequently, Marines faced asbestos exposure risks from their involvement with the Navy in addition to the Marine Corps’ own uses of asbestos.

Asbestos-related cancer is now a large problem for American veterans.

In 2017, the Department of Defense funded research on treatment for service-connected pleural mesothelioma. A team led by mesothelioma expert Dr. Raphael Bueno is investigating the genetics of tumors caused by military asbestos exposure.

Common Asbestos Exposure Scenarios for Marines

Servicing Military Vehicles

Marine mechanics and technicians were often exposed to asbestos when doing maintenance or repair work. Asbestos products were used in all types of military vehicles including aircraft, armored transports, trucks and jeeps.

Asbestos used to be common in brake pads, which meant asbestos dust would accumulate in vehicles as brake pads wore down.

Today, regulations require brake lining dust to be contained or washed away by special equipment, but Marines in the mid-20th century had no such protection.

Asbestos was also a chief ingredient in most types of gaskets and heat shields used in engines and high-temperature machinery. Replacing gaskets often required mechanics to scrape the old gasket material off with a wire brush, which sent toxic asbestos fibers into the air.

Other branches of the military endured asbestos exposure while servicing military vehicles including members of the U.S. Air Force.

Base Construction Work

Marine Corps installations were built with many types of asbestos products. Service members tasked with construction and maintenance work were not given adequate respiratory protection, and asbestos dust from job sites often contaminated surrounding areas.

In 1990, so much soil contamination was found around Marine Corps Air Station Yuma that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared it a Superfund site. It took until 2001 for the asbestos contamination to be cleaned up.

Common Asbestos-Containing Materials Used on Marine Corps Bases

  • Cement sheets
  • Flooring and ceiling tiles
  • Roofing materials
  • Construction mastics
  • Insulation

Other branches of the military used asbestos throughout bases, especially the U.S. Army, because asbestos products are resistant to heat and fire.

Bunking Under Asbestos-Insulated Pipes

Unfortunately, many Marines who did not work directly with asbestos were still exposed to the toxic mineral — simply by breathing while on active duty.

Asbestos-insulated pipes ran through Marine sleeping quarters and easily shed asbestos dust when disturbed. On Navy ships, maintenance work spread asbestos dust through the poorly ventilated spaces where Marines lived. Many Marines recount how white dust used to collect on their beds every day.

Asbestos exposure was easy for soldiers to ignore because it causes no immediate symptoms. Asbestos-related diseases such as pleural mesothelioma do not develop until decades after exposure.

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Compensation for Marine Corps Veterans with Mesothelioma

Marines diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma are eligible for benefits through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Additional compensation through legal representation may also be available.

VA Benefits Available to Veterans with Pleural Mesothelioma

  • Free cancer treatment
  • Assistance with travel and lodging for specialized medical care
  • Monthly disability compensation
  • Monthly dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses

Legal Claims for Marines Exposed to Asbestos

VA compensation for mesothelioma is separate from compensation available through the legal system.

The VA benefits system makes it unnecessary to file a lawsuit against the military, but military families may still have the option of filing a legal claim against the companies that supplied asbestos to the Marine Corps and the Navy.

Experienced mesothelioma lawyers can help veterans reconstruct their history of asbestos exposure —inside and outside the Marine Corps — and evaluate their options for seeking financial compensation.