Feb 14, 2011

The Navy & Asbestos


A Guest Editorial by Ms. Krista Peterson:

Asbstos Care Today

The Navy has protected Americans even it was offically named. Since 1775, the US Navy has sacrificed comfort and security to travel the seas, keeping peace alive and inspiring hope in people all over the world, including those at home in the US. It is imperative that we, as civilians, do our parts to keep these men and women safe. Though we may not be able to shield them from bullets and bombs, we can protect them from health hazards like asbestos.

Beginning in 1939, asbestos has been used in the industry of military shipbuilding. Asbestos is a natural mineral found in deposits in the earth. It was used for its heat and fire-resistant properties in steam pipes, gaskets, boilers, turbines, and generators. However, once disturbed by sanding, cutting, breaking, or burning, the fine fibers in the asbestos were released into the air. Marines, Navy personnel, and shipbuilders then inhale or ingest the fibers, unaware of what doing so could do to their long term health.

Asbestos was often used in boiler and engine rooms, and other places that lacked proper ventilation, trapping the toxic, asbestos-filled air. Men and women who worked in these conditions often left their ships with asbestos fibers in their hair and on their clothes and shoes. Secondhand asbestos exposure is a reality for many families and friends of those who worked with asbestos.

If inhaled or ingested over a prolonged period of time, asbestos fibers build in the lining of the lungs or stomach, causing a cancer called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma symptoms are latent for 20-50 years, meaning that many Navy veterans are only recently being diagnosed with the cancer. Because symptoms are subtle, including shortness of breath and chest heaviness, many mesothelioma victims are misdiagnosed or remain undiagnosed altogether. Thus, mesothelioma life expectancy is often rather short, ranging anywhere from a year to a few months.

There is another illness brought on by exposure to asbestos called asbestosis. Asbestosis is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers as well. These fibers cause the scarring of tissue in the lungs, restricting the lungs’ ability to contract and expand properly. Scarred lung tissue cannot perform gas exchange, which is necessary for optimal muscle and brain function. Similar to symptoms of mesothelioma, asbestosis symptoms go unnoticed for 20 years or more after initial asbestos exposure. Symptoms include a cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath.

According to the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, there are two types of Naval asbestos workers: past workers and current workers. Past workers were exposed to asbestos sometime in the past. Current workers, however, are still being exposed to asbestos. Unfortunately, stricter laws concerning the usage of asbestos in the military are yet to be passed. Current asbestos workers may not realize mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms for several decades.

There is no known cure for mesothelioma and asbestosis. In order to protect our servicemen and women from asbestos related illness, it is important that they receive cancer screenings, especially if they have been exposed to asbestos or if they are experiencing or have experienced symptoms of either illness. Screening procedures often include chest x-rays, CT scans, PET scans, and MRI’s.

Our veterans, Marines, and Navy servicemen and women have been with us through every crisis and even during peacetime. They have protected us, and we as a nation can respect and honor them by spreading health through information. If you know someone who serves his or her country, advise that they see a doctor and request a mesothelioma and asbestosis screening. Prevention is always a better option than treatment, and our troops deserve the best.
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Ms. Peterson is a recent college graduate and aspiring writer. She and a few select others have been invited to write for The Military Observer on a guest basis.

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