The Effects of Asbestos on Navy Veterans

If you were in the Navy and served on a vessel that was built before 1970, you were most likely exposed to asbestos.  Asbestos exposure may have made you ill during your service or you may be exhibiting symptoms of an asbestos-related illness now.  Navy ships, built before 1970, were constructed with asbestos-containing materials from stern to stem.   Asbestos, used for its “fireproofing” and heat resistant properties, coated all of the pipes and many other parts of the ship.  Unfortunately, while the ship builders were coating the ships in asbestos, they were not thinking about or educated on the negative effects it would have on the sailors who manned the ships.  According to the National Cancer Institute, exposure to asbestos can lead to health problems including mesothelioma, abestosis, and pleural plaques.


Mesothelioma is one of the most common asbestos-related health issues.  This rare, yet aggressive, form of lung cancer often occurs 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure.   is one of the health risks and it is one that the symptoms of do not even show up until 20 or even up to 50 years after asbestos exposure.  Mesothelioma most often occurs in the pleura, the lining of the lungs, but can also be present in the peritoneum, the pericardium, or the tunica vaginalis ( the abdominal cavity lining, the sac the surrounds the heart, and the sac surrounding the testis).   While there is no direct link between mesothelioma and smoking, smoking cigarettes and being exposed to any level of asbestos can greatly increase your risk of developing lung cancer.  According to the National Institutes of Health, lung cancer can be explained simply as a disease involving cell growth that is uncontrolled in the tissues in the lungs.  If it progresses without treatment then it can spread to other areas of the body, called metastasis.  If left untreated, you may die from this type of cancer.


Asbestosis is a medical condition that is described by the Mayo Health Clinic as a chronic fibrotic and inflammatory disease, which primarily affects the lungs, specifically the parenchymal tissue and is caused by breathing in and retaining asbestos fibers.  Usually this happens after a person has either long term exposure to or high intensity exposure to asbestos.  Because of this, asbestosis can be deemed an occupational lung disease.

Pleural Plaques

Pleural plaques describes a calcified area or discrete fibrous area in the lungs.  Pleural plaque is similar to dental and arterial plaque, as there is a dangerous build-up.  While this condition is not as serious as some of the other asbestos related diseases, it can still cause a person a great deal of breathing issues and discomfort.

Coping with an Asbestos-Related Disease

Because diseases related to asbestos exposure are slow to grow and even slower to diagnose, many Navy Veterans, unaware of the aggressive diseases, are overwhelmed and disheartened with the dismal news is delivered.  While many Veterans are given a short life expectancy, others live for quite awhile.  If you are a Veteran and have been exposed to asbestos or have recently been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, contact the Veterans Administration to receive support and resources.