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Asbestos materials were used frequently throughout all branches of the military for their durability and ability to withstand high temperatures and other elements. In the U.S. Air Force, it was used in construction materials on bases and planes built prior to 1980. As a result, millions of Air Force veterans were exposed to harmful asbestos fibers.

Air Force veterans, their loved ones and civilian workers may have been exposed to asbestos during their time serving on Air Force bases or on military planes. Exposure to the mineral can lead to mesothelioma cancer or other asbestos-related illnesses. More than 75 Air Force bases across the United States are known to have used asbestos, leading to exposure among service members.

Asbestos Exposure in Air Force Veterans

Veterans who served in the Air Force were likely exposed to asbestos during their time living or working on Air Force bases. Similar to Army bases, asbestos products included wallboard, insulation materials, vinyl floor and ceiling tiles, piping, plumbing, cement foundation and heating systems in housing facilities, common areas and mess halls on base. Asbestos could also be found in sealers and adhesives, which were often used to make repairs on damaged machinery or equipment on base. Air Force servicemen and women who lived on base, as well as their families, civilian construction workers and other staff who spent time on bases were at risk of exposure due to the abundant use of asbestos.

Air Force planes were also constructed with asbestos, leaving Air Force pilots and aircraft mechanics at risk of inhaling dangerous asbestos fibers. Asbestos was most often found in heat shields and aircraft engines for heat resistance, but it could also be found in brake pads, tires and other equipment. Worn down equipment and frequent maintenance work meant that asbestos fibers may have been released into the air and throughout the plane, exposing anyone who made repairs or worked on the plane.

The frequent exposure of Air Force veterans also put family members at risk. Many Air Force families experienced secondhand asbestos exposure as a result of an Air Force veteran being exposed while on base or working on an aircraft. If a service member came home with asbestos dust on their clothing or belongings, the fibers could be easily transferred to family members, resulting in exposure that could ultimately lead to asbestosis, mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

Air Force Veteran Mesothelioma Risk

Asbestos is a hazardous mineral when it is disturbed, as it becomes airborne and easily inhaled or ingested. When fibers from damaged asbestos construction materials are inhaled and become lodged in the lung lining, it can cause malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Due to frequent construction and wear and tear on buildings, equipment and aircraft in the Air Force, asbestos fibers were frequently released into the atmosphere, causing veterans to experience dangerous exposure. Many Air Force bases and planes were constructed during peak asbestos use, meaning millions of Air Force veterans were exposed during major wars, including World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The mesothelioma latency period ranges from 10 – 50 years, which means it can take decades for symptoms to emerge and for veterans to be diagnosed with the disease.

Protecting Air Force Veterans from Asbestos Exposure

In order to prevent further asbestos exposure in Air Force servicemen and women, national agencies have implemented laws and regulations to identify hazards in regard to the presence of asbestos and to ensure safe asbestos removal. In 1986, the USAF Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory identified the hazard and risk associated with the abundance of asbestos on Air Force bases across the country. Using guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the laboratory required air samples to be taken every six months to identify airborne asbestos and implemented an abatement plan.

Although there is still no mandate requiring the Air Force to remove all asbestos from every base, the military branch is required to have an asbestos management plan in place and works to remove asbestos materials that are damaged or cannot be maintained. The Air Force also helps protect their service members with necessary respiratory equipment and training programs.

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