Asbestos Exposure Risks. A surprise military attack on Pearl Harbor by 360 Japanese warplanes seventy-five years ago, left 2,403 Americans dead and wounded 1,178 others. The United States officially entered World War II on that day.
Along with those killed and injured on December 7, 1941, over 10,000 veterans were exposed to high levels of airborne asbestos exposure when the shipyards were bombed at Pearl Harbor. Asbestos exposure at the Pearl Harbor naval base has left many World War II veterans at risk for diseases, such as mesothelioma cancer
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was found to have many useful industrial applications because of the fiber’s strength and resistance to fire and heat, as well as its low electrical conductivity.
It can take from 20 to 50 years for symptoms to appear after asbestos exposure. The tiny fibers take that long to do damage to the lungs, the heart, the abdomen, or the testicles. When asbestos release tiny fibers into the air, they may be inhaled, and consequently become embedded inside the body. The trapped fibers may cause inflammation leading to scarring and genetic changes that in some cases, lead to cancer.
Pearl Harbor was not exclusively where American veterans were exposed to the carcinogenic substance. From the 1930s through the 1970s, naval ships contained asbestos acting as fireproofing material.
What is Mesothelioma?
There are spaces, called sacs or cavities, in the body that hold various internal organs. The lungs, for example, sit in the pleural cavity, the stomach in the peritoneal cavity and the heart in the pericardium sac.
All of these sacs, or cavities, are lined with a membrane called the mesothelium. The thin lining produces fluids that lubricate the space between the organ and the cavity wall. This allows for movement during activities such as breathing, when the lungs fill up with air. Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects these linings, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Each year, almost 10,000 veterans die from asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 700,000 World War II veterans are still alive today.
Less than 33 percent of people who are 75 years old or older and are diagnosed with mesothelioma, live longer than a year.
Personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP are actively reviewing potential lawsuits on behalf of individuals who are seeking legal information and advice on mesothelioma and asbestos exposure. Parker Waichman law firm offers free, no-obligation case evaluations.
Other Possible Asbestos Exposure Sites
Aaron Munz, a former U.S. Army Captain, is director of the Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center. Munz noted that it can be difficult to ascertain if asbestos exposure at Pearl Harbor caused mesothelioma or if it might have happened elsewhere. A minimum of 50 percent of the people who were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military went on to work around asbestos in some capacity after leaving the service.
The Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center can help determine the root of many asbestos-related issues, according to Munz. A person who “works on a roof and breathes in asbestos dust from shingles is not the same as a person who has worked on a ship,” he remarked.
“We try to determine the intensity of the exposure,” Munz said. “Someone on a Navy ship exposed 24 hours a day and seven days a week during a tour is different than working [in] a factory or a construction site and then going home and breathing in clean air at night.”
People who served in all branches of the service were probably exposed to asbestos, but those who worked on ships before 1980 are at a higher risk for developing mesothelioma.
The major purpose for anyone during military service at Pearl Harbor or anywhere else, does not revolve around concerns about asbestos exposure. “Most are focused on the combat mission at hand” said Munz. “That’s the primary focus, not the long-term health effects of chemicals or materials they may be exposed to.”
Today the risk of exposure for workers in the manufacturing industry is much less since asbestos by and large, is no longer used in the United States. Although the use of asbestos has decreased dramatically since the late 1980s, asbestos may still be found in older buildings or products.