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Mesothelioma in Navy Veterans

These days, Americans are generally well-aware of the dangers of asbestos. Many also know that, aside from construction, the maritime industry was one of the largest consumers of asbestos and asbestos products. This was not only true in the civilian shipping industry and marine merchants, but also for the U.S. Navy, which used massive quantities of asbestos and related products.

Sailors working on their ships, in shipyards and on naval bases had no idea they were being exposed to a deadly toxin every day. They also had no idea that when they were at a land-based duty station or their ship was at port, they were taking the asbestos fibers home, and possibly harming their loved ones when these fibers clung to their clothing, hair and vehicle seats. These are called “take home” asbestos cases, and they are one of several types of mesothelioma lawsuits handled by the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman in Boston and the surrounding area.

Why Was Asbestos Used by the U.S. Navy?

It is often said there is nothing worse than a fire at sea. A fire can quickly consume even a large vessel, leaving sailors stranded in the water, struggling to avoid succumbing to drowning or hypothermia. For that reason, heat-resistant insulation material is essential. For many years, asbestos served that purpose.

Asbestos has unique physical properties, including the natural ability to withstand heat, fire, caustic chemicals and electricity – all things that are found on naval vessels and vital to modern ship functions.

Asbestos was utilized on ships well past the time the government became aware that it was toxic. In fact, it was used up until the mid-1980s. According to a 1979 issue of the U.S. Navy’s “All Hands” publication, this seemingly miraculous material was first discovered by Europeans in 1271 when the famous explorer Marco Polo was sailing from Europe to Asia. He described a mysterious tablecloth that would extinguish a fire if thrown on the burn. But of course, it was no miracle to Asians, who had already been using asbestos for 1,000 years by that point.

As the Europeans soon discovered, asbestos was very cheap to mine and to refine into consumer and industrial products. That’s one of the reasons it was so popular.

As for its use in the U.S. Navy, it was essentially used for everything. There were pipes made of asbestos or insulated with asbestos blankets. Wires were insulated in rubber impregnated with asbestos. The boilers and engine rooms were lined with asbestos and all kinds of gaskets and valves were made from asbestos.

Who Was Exposed to Asbestos in the U.S. Navy?

Essentially, everyone who worked on or near a ship was exposed to deadly asbestos fibers. One of the reasons for this is because when a new ship is constructed, the crew will participate in sea trials before major construction is complete. There was often exposed insulation on the ships during these sea trials, and shipbuilders were actively cutting asbestos material during these few weeks at sea, thus exposing themselves and everyone on board.

While everyone was at risk for inhaling or ingesting the deadly asbestos fibers, and thus becoming sick with malignant mesothelioma, as our Boston mesothelioma lawyers have seen in far too many cases, there are some jobs that placed certain sailors at higher risk than others. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) some of the more dangerous occupations in the U.S. Navy are as follows:

  • Boatswain’s Mate
  • Damage Controlman
  • Electrician’s Mate
  • Fire Control Technician
  • Machinist’s Mate
  • Pipe Fitter
  • Seabee
  • Welder

Most of these jobs involve the maintenance or repair of the ship itself. These jobs often involve cutting or torching parts on the ship to make repairs and making sure everything is working properly. For those who are unaware, a Seabee is the name for an engineer in the navy who also is combat trained, and the term is somewhat analogous to a U.S. Army sapper.

For those who were unfortunate enough to be exposed to asbestos fibers during their career in the Navy (1930s to 1980s officers or enlisted personnel are at highest risk), it generally takes between 20 and 50 years for the development of symptoms of malignant mesothelioma.

The terminal cancer develops when fibers become trapped in the protective layer of tissue that surrounds most organs in the human body. This tissue layer is known as the mesothelium, and this is where the disease mesothelioma gets its name. Once the fibers are trapped in the mesothelium, they will metastasize into mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma can form in the lungs, and it often does, where it known as malignant pleural mesothelioma or “MPM,” as it is often called by doctors and Boston mesothelioma attorneys. However, it is important to understand that malignant pleural mesothelioma is not the same as the type of lung cancer typically associated with smoking.

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In addition to the lungs, mesothelioma can also develop in the chest cavity, where it is known as malignant pericardial mesothelioma, or in the abdominal cavity, where it known as malignant peritoneal mesothelioma. However, once mesothelioma occurs in one part of the body, it can quickly spread to any other part of the body and often does. This is one of the reasons that it is so difficult to effectively treat the disease.

What Are Your Options if You are a Navy Veteran Diagnosed With Mesothelioma?

If you were exposed to deadly asbestos fibers while in the Navy or any branch of the armed U.S. armed forces, you will likely be filing claim with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The requirements are that you were in active service for the military and have been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. You must also have received an honorable discharge (possibly with conditions), and you must prove you were exposed to asbestos.

It can be any branch of the military, including the Coast Guard, Navy, Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps.

One thing to keep in mind is that this process can become very complicated, so the best thing you can do is to speak with a Boston mesothelioma lawyer who has experience filing claims for veterans.

Navy veterans may also have the option to pursue legal action against manufacturers of asbestos-laden products to which they were exposed. Defendants in these instances, usually federal government contractors, will argue they were acting under color of federal government and is therefore entitled to derivative immunity or qualified immunity. This immunity could apply if their work complied with federal directions, such as outlined in the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez. However, the court made clear that government contractors are not entitled to blanket immunity, meaning there are clear exceptions.

Mapping out your legal options is best done with an experienced mesothelioma attorney. There is no fee for legal assistance unless you are successful.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.

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