The Use of Asbestos in the U.S. Air Forces
The irony of asbestos use has often been pointed out: once much in use for its defensive properties as an insulator, fire retardant etc., heavily employed because it seemed the ideal solution to protect humans from disaster, asbestos itself turned out to be an immense health hazard for those who came into contact with it.
The U.S. Air Forces were not immune to the promises of asbestos, and, although there were suspicions as to its negative health effects as early as the first decades of the 20th century, it appeared for a long time that its benefits outweighed its dangers. It was only in the 1970s that the U.S. Armed Forces began to accept that the human cost in using asbestos was much too high, and asbestos use was cut down and heavily regulated.
However, diseases caused by exposure to asbestos are notoriously slow to develop, and veterans to this day are feeling the impact, as they are diagnosed with conditions from fibrosis to mesothelioma, acquired during their employment with the U.S. military as far back as four or five decades ago.
Servicemen and women employed in the U.S. Air Forces were among those most at risk, as a number of specific items in the Air Forces inventory used asbestos in various products that needed insulation, such as brake pads, engine heat shields, wiring insulation etc., which are virtually omnipresent in airplanes. They are, however, not the only asbestos-containing products. A number of items on the ground, from more insulation to actual buildings, contain asbestos:
- even safety clothing.
Whenever maintenance work was performed on an aircraft, or whenever repair work was conducted on buildings, asbestos fibers were released into the air and were most likely inhaled.