For decades, men and women in the U.S. Navy have been put in situations where they have been heavily exposed to asbestos. The toxic substance was used extensively in many areas of naval ships as a fireproofing method. Through the 1980s, shipbuilders continued using asbestos in ships, despite learning the risks associated with it. Since then, however, changes have been made in the way in which the Navy deals with asbestos.
The recent retirement of one of the most decorated aircraft carriers in the United States may be a good illustration of how shipbuilding and asbestos awareness has changed over the years. The USS Enterprise is an enormous combat vessel that has been utilized in every major military conflict since the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was built over 50 years ago and more than 100,000 people have served as crewmen aboard the iconic ship.
Tragically, many of those who were aboard the USS Enterprise during its extensive history of active service were exposed to asbestos. Before 1975, every Navy ship made use of asbestos in nearly all parts of the ship and the USS Enterprise was no different. According to reports, the vessel contained untold tons of the fiber. As the ship deteriorated through the years, asbestos was more likely to crumble or become airborne, which continued to affect crews.
In recent years, however, changes have been made in reaction to fact that asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma and other cancers. Asbestos is no longer used in the same way it was when the USS Enterprise was built. Instead of waiting months to tend to issues related to asbestos, the U.S. Navy requires there to be a person onboard a ship built before 1980 who is qualified to identify and handle asbestos appropriately. Members of this Emergency Asbestos Response Team are equipped with protective clothing, boots, respirators and other precautionary tools as well which were not provided in previous years.
More than 50 years ago, sailors in the Navy were heavily exposed to asbestos. While much has changed since then in the ways that asbestos is regarded, many of these people are only now experiencing symptoms of illnesses caused by this exposure. As the USS Enterprise is retired and decommissioned, it serves as a good reminder that the threat of asbestos continues in spite of the evidence that exists and shows what a deadly fiber it can be.
Source: asbestos.com, “Retirement of USS Enterprise a Reminder that Navy Veterans Still at Risk from Asbestos Exposure,” Tim Povtak, Dec. 12, 2012