The Use of Asbestos in the U.S. Coast Guard
The U.S. Coast Guard, like the Navy, is a maritime military service and has consequently been heavily exposed to asbestos, much as Navy employees have. Because of its insulating and fire-retardant properties, asbestos was initially hailed as a life-saver by the U.S. Armed Forces, as by civilian industries across the board. Its benefits seemed to know no bounds, and for decades all signs to the contrary were ignored. The Armed Forces were sadly among the organizations that refused to weigh in the potential cost to human health, and consequently many veterans are now paying a heavy price for serving their country.
Most at risk among the Coast Guard servicemen and women were those directly exposed to asbestos in shipyard work, whether it was ship building, maintenance or repairs. Since asbestos is brittle and easily releases fibers into the air if not wet or if its surface tension is broken, exposure was almost impossible to avoid when doing work on older vessels.
Even mere travel on ships rich in asbestos products could expose the crew to toxic fibers, since almost all insulating products between the 1930s and the 1970s contained asbestos. Boilers were among the richest in asbestos, followed by electrical insulation and asbestos reinforcement in walls around the ship. Practically anywhere you turned in the confined space of a Coast Guard ship, asbestos was sure to be there. And, on those ships or buildings that are still in use decades later, the danger is still there.
Asbestos Products Coast Guard Veterans May Have Been Exposed To