Asbestos at Pearl Harbor, Naval Shipyards

Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

Asbestos Exposure May Put World War II Veterans, Naval Shipyard Workers, Others At Risk For Serious Diseases

The surprise attack at Pearl Harbor 75 years ago left 2,403 Americans killed, 1,178 wounded, and marked the United States’ entry into World War II. Another 10,000 veterans were exposed to high levels of asbestos that went airborne when the shipyards there were bombed. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), there are approximately 700,000 World War II veterans alive today.

Naval ships also contained asbestos as a fireproofing material from the 1930s through the 1970s, endangering even more veterans. Nearly 10,000 veterans die annually due to asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer; lung cancer; pleural disease; and asbestosis, a lung disease that involves severe fibrosis and which increases the risk for developing mesothelioma. Because of the large number of asbestos parts and products once used by the United States military, American veterans are particularly vulnerable to developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Former U.S. Army Captain Aaron Munz is director of the Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center and said that it is challenging to determine if asbestos exposure at Pearl Harbor caused a veteran’s mesothelioma or if the exposure and disease occurred elsewhere. At least half of those exposed to asbestos while serving in the military continued to work near asbestos in some capacity after leaving the service.

Also according to Captain Munz, the Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center may be able to help determine the cause of many asbestos-related problems. For example, exposure by someone who works on a roof and breathes in asbestos dust from shingles experiences asbestos exposure in a different way than someone who has worked on a ship or who survived the Pearl Harbor bombing. “We try to determine the intensity of the exposure,” said Munz. “Someone on a Navy ship exposed 24 hours a day and seven days a week during a tour is different than working a factory or a construction site and then going home and breathing in clean air at night.”

Individuals who have served in all branches of the military likely were exposed to asbestos, while those who worked on ships before 1980 are at an even more increased risk. Meanwhile, asbestos exposure concerns at Pearl Harbor or during any other military service is not always a priority or concern for many military members. “Most are focused on the combat mission at hand,” Captain Munz said. “That’s the primary focus, not the long-term health effects of chemicals or materials they may be exposed to.”

During much of the twentieth century, in addition to being used as an insulator and fireproofing material, asbestos was typically combined with other materials to add its heat- and fire-resistant properties to construction materials and fabrics. Inhaling asbestos causes serious, sometimes fatal, health problems and al of these diseases may take years to develop; many people who worked around asbestos and were exposed to asbestos became sick decades after their exposure.

Parker Waichman LLP is a national personal injury law firm with decades of experience representing clients in asbestos and mesothelioma litigation. The firm continues to offer free legal consultations to individuals, including veterans and shipyard workers, with questions about filing a mesothelioma lawsuit.

Asbestos and Mesothelioma

When airborne, asbestos fibers may be easily ingested or inhaled and, once inhaled, asbestos fibers may lead to significant damage to a person’s health such as breathing problems that become increasingly difficult to treat over time. Exposure to prolonged or high levels of asbestos may lead to various forms of lung cancer such as mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the pleura in the lungs and a condition that affects thousands of people who worked in industrial settings for years where asbestos was often used or who were exposed to high levels of asbestos.

Initial signs of potential adverse effects related to asbestos exposure include shortness of breath, feeling tired, or a dry cough. As the disease progresses, coughs typically become incessant and worsen. Chest pain and frequent lung infections are also characteristic symptoms of potential lung cancers such as mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos.

Mesothelioma’s effects are not reversible and symptoms may take between 10 and 50 years after asbestos exposure to develop. A person’s risk factor increases the longer the exposure to asbestos. In fact, only a few months of asbestos exposure may significantly raise a person’s risk for this deadly cancer. Approximately 3,000 Americans yearly are diagnosed with mesothelioma, which not only attacks the lining of the lungs, it attacks the abdomen, and heart, as well.

Even if a person has not been directly exposed to asbestos, a related disease may be acquired by simply being near a person who has been exposed. Also, family members of many workers exposed to asbestos have developed many of the same symptoms and also face similar risks caused by asbestos exposure. Some people have become ill from asbestos exposure by simply washing the clothes of asbestos workers.

While it takes decades for the tiny fibers of asbestos to do damage to the lungs, the heart, the abdomen, or the testicles, it may also take decades to develop into recognizable damage. The trapped fibers may lead to inflammation, which may cause scarring and genetic changes that sometimes lead to cancer. Sadly, less than 33 percent of people who are 75 years of age or older when they are diagnosed with mesothelioma live for more than one year.

The American Lung Association notes that 70 to 80 percent of mesothelioma cases are caused by occupational exposure.

Legal Help for Veterans, Other Individuals Harmed by Exposure to Asbestos

If you or someone you know was exposed to asbestos at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, by working at a shipyard, or through other occupational exposures and have suffered lung cancer, mesothelioma, pleural disease, asbestosis, or other asbestos-related diseases, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP for a free, no obligation case evaluation. Fill out the online contact form to have an attorney contact you, or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529.