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Sinking old warships, and the asbestos inside

Soldiers in the U.S. Navy are some of the bravest men and women in the country. They put their lives on the line for the good of the U.S., and often suffer serious injuries or illness by doing so.

There are many risks that come with serving in the Navy, but one risk may frequently be overlooked: the risk of exposure to toxic materials. Veterans of the U.S. Navy have been disproportionately in danger of developing cancer and other serious illnesses thanks to being exposed to asbestos during their time in the military. In many cases, this exposure was suffered on the very ships they lived and worked on.

For decades, asbestos was used heavily on battleships, cruisers, cargo ships, submarines, destroyers and other naval vessels. Asbestos was used in everything from the pipes and insulation to the boilers and turbines. And the dangers of asbestos don’t necessarily go away when a ship is decommissioned.

In an article we wrote on our webpage, we discussed how old Navy ships are destroyed after they are no longer in use. That article, titled "Navy Blows Up Old Warships, Possibly with Toxins Aboard," explores the SINKEX Program. This program is designed to train personnel in live fire exercises and sinking ships.

Blowing up old ships in the middle of the ocean may not present any considerable risk of exposure to toxic chemicals to military personnel, but it should remind people that asbestos is a very real threat to people’s health if breathed in. After all, the best way to eradicate asbestos without significantly threatening people’s lives may be to take it 50 nautical miles away and sink it to the bottom of the ocean.

However, not every ship is blown up in the middle of the ocean. Some are dismantled on land or left in shipyards. And in many cases, the asbestos has already caused considerable damage long before a ship is decommissioned.

Any person who has served in the U.S. Navy could be at risk of developing an asbestos-related illness because of how heavily asbestos was used on naval ships. It can be crucial to understand what this means and what options are available for veterans who have been exposed to asbestos.

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