Air Force Veterans & Asbestos Exposure

Those who served in the U.S. Air Force may have come into contact with asbestos from the aircraft they flew and the buildings they lived in. This is because asbestos was used in many essential building and aircraft parts for decades. Unfortunately, asbestos exposure can lead to diseases or cancers like mesothelioma.

Asbestos & the Air Force

The United States Air Force has helped protect our nation from overseas threats since the 1940s. From World War II to the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Air Force veterans have served bravely and selflessly.

However, many service members were unaware they faced an unseen enemy while they served: asbestos.

Up until the 1980s, asbestos was widely used on Air Force bases. It also was used in jets, propeller planes, helicopters, and other aircraft.

When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced bans on certain uses of asbestos, the Air Force started taking precautionary measures of their own — but not before the damage had already been done.

Today, Air Force veterans are at an increased risk of developing asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Mesothelioma affects the linings of major organs and has no cure.

Asbestos Exposure on Air Force Bases and Aircraft

Asbestos was used in many Air Force hangars, barracks, and offices — some of which housed tens of thousands of airmen, their families, and civilians.

Historically, the Air Force also used asbestos in virtually all its aircraft, putting service members at risk while in the skies.

Aircraft parts that used asbestos included, but were not limited to:

  • Brakes
  • Cargo bay insulation
  • Clutches
  • Cockpit heating systems
  • Electrical insulation
  • Electrical wiring
  • Engine heat shields
  • Engine insulation
  • Gaskets
  • Jet exhausts
  • Torque valves
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U.S. Air Force Veterans and Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos was used in nearly every Air Force base for most of the 20th century. However, the asbestos fibers posed less of a risk as long as they remained undisturbed.

Dangerous exposure could occur if building construction or repairs released microscopic asbestos fibers into the air. If this happened, those nearby could breathe in the fibers without notice and eventually get sick.

Asbestos products that may have exposed Air Force workers included, but are not limited to:

  • Adhesives, coatings, and paints
  • Drywall, floor tiles, and roofing
  • Electrical wiring
  • Fireproofing materials
  • Furnaces
  • HVAC systems
  • Insulation for pipes
  • Soundproofing panels
  • Vehicle parts
  • Wall and ceiling insulation

Air Force Jobs Affected by Asbestos

Certain roles in the Air Force exposed some service members to asbestos more than others. A few of these jobs saw servicemen come into daily contact with asbestos.

A few of the many dangerous jobs Air Force veterans held include:

  • Aircraft Mechanic: Spending most of their time in shops and hangars, aircraft mechanics worked among many dangerous activities and performed them as well. The replacement of asbestos-containing brake pads was a particularly common and dangerous task.
  • Aviation Machinist’s Mate: Aviation machinist’s mates normally performed routine engine maintenance and prepared aircraft for flight. However, they also had to test, repair, and overhaul engines and propellers. This meant they worked on high-temperature machinery and used tools fitted with asbestos pads.
  • Boiler Tender: Boiler tenders regularly replaced asbestos-based boiler components like gaskets, heat jackets, and sealants. They also chipped away at damaged asbestos-containing materials, accidentally releasing the fibers into hot and cramped spaces in the process.
  • Gunner’s Mate: Also known as GMs, gunner’s mates maintained the armament systems and explosive devices on aircraft. They also operated machines like smoke screen generators. For all duties, they were required to wear “protective” gloves made with asbestos. These gloves prevented burns but released deadly fibers with wear and tear. Additional exposure came from parts of the aircraft damaged under fire.
  • HVAC Specialist: HVAC specialists installed, repaired, and replaced heating and cooling systems on a regular basis to keep them running efficiently. This exposed them to a number of high-temperature materials like steam pipes, compressors, and cooling tower equipment — all fireproofed with asbestos. Their workplaces were confined and enclosed, increasing their risk of inhaling asbestos fibers.
  • Pilot: Pilots were at risk of asbestos exposure just from operating the equipment that mechanics repaired. Sadly, they were not just exposed by planes or aircraft. Pilots often visited hangars and office spaces where they were exposed to materials like fireproofing and drywall.
  • Plumber/Pipefitter: Plumbers and pipefitters installed and repaired pipe systems for boiler controls, hydraulic systems, and pneumatic systems both on land and on different aircraft. They were exposed to asbestos through many common activities, like cutting into old pipelines, stripping away cement pipe from corroded water lines, and insulating boiler fireboxes.
  • Vehicle Manager: The Air Force uses specialized vehicles for different maintenance needs on their bases. Vehicle managers were responsible for inspecting, troubleshooting, and repairing these vehicles. This gave them routine, hands-on access to damaged — and thus high-risk — clutch facings, brake shoes, linings, and other materials built with asbestos for its anti-friction properties.
  • Welder: In the Air Force, welders are responsible for making and repairing the metal components critical to aircraft function. In general, welders were known to face more hazards than most. They could have been exposed to asbestos not only in products like welding rods, but also from excessive smoke, metal splinters, and toxic dust.

Though newer aircraft and military bases are no longer built with asbestos, there is an exposure risk even today. Some Air Force buildings that were made with asbestos are still currently in use. Some boilers and auto parts can also contain asbestos even today despite government warnings.

Air Force Veterans and Mesothelioma

Whether they flew aircraft, lived on bases, or repaired vital military equipment, those who served in the Air Force ran a high risk of asbestos exposure. Even worse, the families who lived on Air Force bases with those who served could have been exposed as well.

Sadly, this risk could have been prevented. Manufacturers of asbestos-containing materials were well aware of the dangers. However, instead of making this knowledge public, they chose profits over protecting those who risked everything to serve their country.

Did You Know?

Thousands of people are now being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. Veterans account for over 30% of all mesothelioma cases today.

If you or a veteran you love suffers from mesothelioma symptoms, you can get the justice you deserve. Sokolove Law offers free legal case reviews for veterans and their loved ones.

If you choose to seek legal action for your mesothelioma diagnosis, you will not sue the government or your military branch. You will be taking action against asbestos companies and manufacturers that downplayed the dangers of asbestos.

Contact us today for a free legal case review. We can help you navigate the VA claims system and help you get compensation from the asbestos companies who wronged you.

Author:Sokolove Law Team
Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: February 26, 2021