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Asbestos in the Military

Posted on by Asbestos Waste Solutions Limited

During the 20th century, asbestos was mined heavily and used for all manner of construction purposes. It was used extensively in the military too, largely because of its impressive resistance to heat and chemical damage, tensile strength, flexibility and insulative properties. It was also affordable, meaning that the military could construct sturdy ships, vehicles and other structures at a fraction of the cost of other materials.

However, as we know, when damaged the fibres that make up asbestos are released into the atmosphere and can be inhaled. Exposure to these fibres for long periods of time can lead to a whole host of diseases, from asbestosis to mesothelioma, and has had a profound effect on military personnel.

Veterans serving in the army from 1930 to as late as the Iraq war have greatly increased risk of developing mesothelioma other asbestos-related diseases. In light of this, this article will look in greater detail about the military’s relationship to asbestos.

Why it was used

Asbestos was used for all kinds of reasons in the military, however, it’s primary use was to help construct and fortify its ships. Those that didn’t serve at sea weren’t necessarily free from exposure though, there were many vehicles and bases that were constructed on land using asbestos. Even barracks where soldiers lived and slept would have been constructed using asbestos meaning that, any disturbance or damage done to those materials would have caused fibres to be released and inhaled.


Vehicles produced between 1940 and 1980, such as helicopters, tanks and support vehicles, would have also been likely to have been constructed using asbestos. This is probably because its heat resistant properties would have been extremely useful for parts such as brakes, valves and gaskets. Again, if any repair works was performed on these vehicles, the chances are the workers themselves would have been exposed to the fibres.

Lack of awareness

However, what made this exposure so much more lethal was the sheer lack of awareness to the dangers of the substance. Unfortunately, all military personnel performing construction work on ships and vehicles wouldn’t have been using the appropriate protective gear to guard against the inhalation of asbestos fibres.

asbestos survey

Recent exposure

Soldiers as recent as the Iraq war were also exposed to asbestos. Unfortunately, many Middle Eastern countries were importing large amounts of asbestos for construction purposes and, when demolished, released huge amounts of fibres into the atmosphere.
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