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44 Navy | Summer 2018 W idely known as the miracle mineral during the last century, asbestos has come to be recognized for what it is — a carcinogenic agent that can lead to devastating health problems. More than 75 occupational groups had been subjected to heavy asbestos exposure before proper workplace regulations became effective, including mili- tary personnel. Today, while asbestos is no longer present on naval ships, the dire consequences of past exposure continue to emerge among veterans. As a fibrous mineral which occurs naturally in the earth, asbestos may seem harmless at first glance. However, although it poses no danger as long as it remains undis- turbed, asbestos becomes a health hazard when airborne. Asbestos has numerous convenient and exploitable proper- ties, the most valuable being resistance to fire. At the time, it was also quite inexpensive, which explains the eagerness of American companies to use it. Within the U.S. Navy, asbestos would lurk mainly in wall and floor insulation, but the mineral could be found virtually everywhere, as there were over 300 distinct prod- ucts that contained it on the average ship. e carcinogen would also fireproof equipment prone to overheating, such as engines and boilers. Other products with asbestos include capacitors, deck covering materials, paneling, hydraulic assemblies, cables and gaskets. Between 1935 and 1975, every naval ship would have asbestos aboard, which crew members would unwittingly inhale and ingest on a regular basis. Even though the mineral was present in all U.S. military branches for the better part of the last century, the Navy made use of the largest amounts. Navy veterans are now at highest risk of developing a broad range of diseases, most of which affect the lungs. Mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer which grows on the outer lining of the lungs, is alarmingly prevalent among this demographic, with roughly 30 percent of victims being Navy veterans. Only 3,000 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. annually and the prognosis is very unfavorable, with most patients surviving for only 12 to 21 months. Mesothelioma takes between 20 and 50 years to arise following exposure to asbestos and so do all the other diseases caused by it, as they have a long latency period. Aer one breathes in or swallows asbestos fibers from the air, these tiny, needle-like particles will become lodged in the tissue of the organ they reach, slowly producing inflammation and scarring. Over the course of several decades, a disease per se or a malignant tumor may even- tually occur. People who were in charge of maintaining and repairing boilers, such as tenders and mechanics, are the most susceptible to falling ill, as their exposure to asbestos was particularly heavy. While being around asbestos is never safe, medical researchersVer agree that the likeli- hood of coming to suffer from a related disease depends mainly on the duration of exposure and the amount of toxic fibers in the body. Nevertheless, anyone who served aboard a U.S. Navy ship before the 1980s should closely monitor their health, since there have been instances when a person developed mesothelioma aer a single, short-lived exposure to asbestos. Some of the symptoms veterans need to seek medical attention for are chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, a chronic cough, unexplained weight loss, trouble swal- lowing and wheezing. In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos exposure can also result in lung cancer, asbes- tosis, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, pleural plaques, as well as malignant diseases that damage other organs, such as the kidneys, the gallbladder, the colon and the esophagus. Annual screenings consisting of a chest X-ray and a series of pulmonary function tests are highly recom- mended for anyone who has a history of asbestos expo- sure. ese diagnostic tools will help specialists detect a potential lung disease, since the vast majority of asbestos victims do not notice any worrisome symptoms until their illness has considerably progressed. In the unfortunate event you receive a diagnosis, it is important to know that you can file a claim for disability compensation with the Department of Veterans Affairs. e monthly sum of money you will receive will depend primarily on the severity of your illness. Furthermore, you also can claim financial compensation from one or multiple asbestos trust funds with the help of a specialized attorney. Stan Gottfredson is president and CEO of Asbestos Ships, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide assistance to individuals who might have been affected by military asbestos exposure. VETERANS' AFFAIRS Asbestos Exposure a Serious Health Threat for Navy Veterans By Stan Gottfredson

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