Asbestos Exposure at Air Force Bases

Expert Fact Checked

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The United States Air Force used asbestos in a variety of structures and machinery at Air Force bases. The military commonly used asbestos for fireproofing and insulation. Asbestos is still present on some bases. As a result, current service members may still be at risk of asbestos exposure.

01. Asbestos Use at Air Force Bases

How Was Asbestos Used at Air Force Bases?

The Air Force frequently used asbestos within structures and machinery on bases. Many Air Force bases were built before the 1980s when asbestos products were widely used.

The military used asbestos products to fireproof and strengthen construction materials. On many Air Force bases, asbestos could be found in:

  • Houses
  • Common areas
  • Dining facilities
  • Work areas

Asbestos-containing materials are not dangerous if they remain intact. However, asbestos fibers may be released if these materials are disturbed or damaged. Asbestos-containing materials may release fibers during construction, demolition or repairs.

Common Asbestos Products at Air Force Bases

In addition to asbestos exposure from base structures, Air Force members may also experience exposure working with planes. Air Force members may have interacted with asbestos during plane maintenance and repair.

Asbestos was used as a fireproofing material in aircraft brakes and machinery. A variety of aircraft equipment was also commonly insulated with asbestos.

Asbestos equipment was meant to protect passengers and the plane itself from fires and excess heat. However, the use of asbestos products was dangerous.

Asbestos use on Air Force bases and machinery caused many individuals to experience asbestos exposure. Asbestos exposure can lead to an asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma.

Although laws and regulations limit asbestos use, the mineral is currently not banned in the U.S. As a result, asbestos may still be found on some Air Force bases. Due to lingering asbestos materials, Air Force members and their families may still risk asbestos exposure.

02. Notable Air Force Bases

Notable Air Force Bases That Used Asbestos

Many domestic and international U.S. Air Force bases were constructed using asbestos products. These bases may still contain asbestos and other hazardous chemicals.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists several Air Force bases as Superfund sites. The Superfund program allows the EPA to clean up these areas to protect service members, civilian workers and the public.

Superfund sites are areas designated by the EPA to contain hazards such as asbestos.

In addition to those designated Superfund sites, asbestos has been found in many U.S. Air Force bases. Several Air Force bases may still have asbestos in old structures and machinery.

Burns Air Force Radar Station

Burns Air Force Station was established as a radar station during the Cold War era. The base was deactivated in 1970 due to budget restrictions.

Quick Facts
  • Years of Operation: 1955 – 1970
  • Location: Burns, Oregon

In 2002, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) documented asbestos-containing materials (ACM) at the former base. The DEQ stated the asbestos was a public health hazard.

In 2004, the EPA cleaned the area and removed:

  • 20.5 tons of friable ACM
  • 357 tons of ACM debris

Asbestos products found at the site included insulation, broken tile and wallboard. The DEQ finished the cleanup in 2011.

George Air Force Base

George Air Force Base opened in 1941 when asbestos was widely used by the military.

Quick Facts

Years of Operation: 1941 – 1992
Location: Victorville, California

Aircraft maintenance was frequently done at the base. As a result, jet fuel, gasoline and paint contaminated the surrounding soil and groundwater.

George Air Force Base was placed on the EPA’s National Priority List in 1990. The base was placed on the list due to large amounts of hazardous materials.

The EPA’s National Priority List is a list of hazardous sites prioritized by the danger they pose to public and environmental health. The list is designed to guide the EPA in determining which sites require attention.

The EPA began cleaning up the site in 1990 and is expected to finish in 2023. A review of the environmental hazards found 40% of the base’s facilities tested had asbestos-containing materials.

The Air Force is legally required to pay for the cleanup and has already paid more than $113 million towards cleaning the site.

Other Air Force Bases That Caused Exposure

Air Force bases in the following list are known to have used asbestos and caused exposure.

  • Brookley Air Force Base
  • Gunter Air Force Base
  • Maxwell Air Force Base
  • Eielson Air Force Base
  • Elmendorf Air Force Base
  • Ladd Air Force Base
  • Luke Air Force Base
  • Williams Air Force Base
  • Little Rock Air Force Base
  • Edwards Air Force Base
  • Hamilton Field Air Force Base
  • March Air Force Base
  • McClellan Air Force Base
  • Norton Air Force Base
  • Travis Air Force Base
  • Vandenberg Air Force Base
  • Lowry Air Force Base
  • Dover Air Force Base
  • Eglin Air Force Base
  • Homestead Air Force Base
  • MacDill Air Force Base
  • Orlando Air Force Base
  • Patrick Air Force Base
  • Tyndall Air Force Base
  • Dobbins Air Force Base
  • Hunter Air Force Base
  • Robins Air Force Base
  • Chanute Air Force Base
  • Scott Air Force Base
  • Bakalar Air Force Base
  • Bunker Hill Air Force Base
  • Forbes Air Force Base
  • McConnell Air Force Base
  • Schilling Air Force Base
  • Barksdale Air Force Base
  • Dow Air Force Base
  • Loring Air Force Base
  • Bedford Air Force Base
  • Hanscom Air Force Base
  • Westover Air Force Base
  • Sawyer Air Force Base
  • Selfridge Air Force Base
  • Duluth Air Force Base
  • Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base
  • Scott Air Force Base
  • Whiteman Air Force Base
  • Nellis Air Force Base
New York
  • Griffiss Air Force Base
  • Hancock Air Force Base
  • Lockbourne Air Force Base
  • Wilkins Air Force Base
  • Wright Patterson Air Force Base
  • Tinker Air Force Base
  • Middletown Air Force Base
Rhode Island
  • Smithfield Air Force Base
South Carolina
  • Charleston Air Force Base
  • Donaldson Air Force Base
  • Shaw Air Force Base
South Dakota
  • Ellsworth Air Force Base
  • Rapid City Air Force Base
  • Arnold Air Force Base
  • Amarillo Air Force Base
  • Bergstrom Air Force Base
  • Brooks Air Force Base
  • Carswell Air Force Base
  • Connally Air Force Base
  • Goodfellow Air Force Base
  • Kelly Air Force Base
  • Laredo Air Force Base
  • Midland Air Force Base
  • Reese Air Force Base
  • Sheppard Air Force Base
  • Hill Air Force Base
  • Fairchild Air Force Base Hospital
  • Larson Air Force Base
  • US Air Force, McChord AFB
Washington, D.C.
  • Andrews Air Force Base
  • Truax Air Force Base
03. Who Is at Risk?

Who Is at Risk of Exposure at Air Force Bases?

Service members, their families and other civilians living on Air Force bases may be at risk of asbestos exposure. Today, individuals living on an Air Force base may experience exposure to asbestos-containing materials because many buildings and homes used the mineral.

The U.S. military no longer uses asbestos products. However, asbestos may still be present on some bases.

As asbestos-containing materials age, they may become friable and break apart. When asbestos-containing materials break apart individuals may inhale asbestos fibers.

In some cases, the Air Force did not keep clear records of where on base asbestos was used. Some families are also not told asbestos-containing materials may be in military housing.

Individuals who lived on Air Force bases in the past may have unknowingly experienced asbestos exposure. These individuals may still be at risk of developing an asbestos illness.

Occupational Exposure of Service Members and Civilians

Air Force members and civilian workers also experienced occupational asbestos exposure from working with asbestos products on base. For example, during routine plane maintenance and repair, asbestos fibers were often released into the air.

As a result, service members and civilian workers who repaired plane brakes and other machinery were at risk of inhaling asbestos dust.

Occupations at Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Close contact with asbestos products often caused fibers to accumulate on clothes and equipment. Some Air Force members and civilian workers may have brought asbestos fibers home on their clothes. As a result, families may experience secondary exposure.

Secondary asbestos exposure can often occur from handling or laundering asbestos-ridden clothes. Service members and their loved ones were commonly unaware asbestos was brought into the home.

Although the use of asbestos products has decreased, some individuals may still face asbestos exposure from old materials. Any level of asbestos exposure puts Air Force members and civilians at risk of an asbestos illness.

Due to long latency periods, Individuals who experienced exposure in the past still risk developing mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis.

04. Asbestos Lawsuits

Asbestos Lawsuits and VA Compensation

Air Force veterans with an asbestos-related disease may be eligible for financial compensation, healthcare and other benefits.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers benefits for individuals with an asbestos illness. To be eligible, the illness must be a result of exposure during military service.

Air Force veterans and their family members can seek compensation by filing a VA claim. Air Force veterans may also receive low-cost health care and treatment from a VA treatment center.

Veterans may seek compensation through:

  • Mesothelioma lawsuits: A lawsuit may be filed against companies that supplied the Air Force with asbestos products. Successful lawsuits result in a settlement or a verdict from the responsible companies.
  • Asbestos trust fund claims: Asbestos companies may have a trust fund set up to compensate individuals diagnosed with an asbestos disease. Veterans may be able to file for compensation through these trust funds.

Air Force veterans with an asbestos-related disease can connect with a law firm to learn about all their options. An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can help veterans and loved ones determine their best compensation options.

05. Preventing Asbestos Exposure

Preventing Asbestos Exposure at Air Force Bases

To limit asbestos exposure, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has created laws to protect workers who come into contact with asbestos. Additional guidelines were also instituted to protect Air Force members working on bases.

In 1986, the USAF Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory created asbestos guidelines to mitigate exposure on Air Force bases. The guidelines required air samples to be taken every six months and for bases to create an asbestos abatement plan.

Despite these protections, some Air Force members may still risk asbestos exposure. Many asbestos-containing materials still exist on Air Force bases and can put individuals at risk.