For many years, asbestos was seen as such a wonder material that it was used in insulation, ceiling tiles, pipe linings, automobiles, fireproofing equipment, small appliances and other household goods. It was also used in gaskets, automotive brakes, toasters and aprons. It was even popular in the military. In fact, by World War II safety precautions mandated that it be used on Navy ships. The Army had adapted its use in much the same way as industry had.
Unfortunately, the versatility of asbestos overshadowed its hazards. Many corporations and the government knew that the substance had direct links to lung diseases and related conditions, including the cancer mesothelioma but did little about it. It wouldn't be until decades later that the general public became aware of what asbestos could do to people who were exposed to it.
By the time people were aware of the dangers of asbestos, many workers and servicemen had spent their lives working with the substance. They had been subjected to unprotected asbestos exposure, increasing their chances of developing a deadly asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is one of the most deadly asbestos-related conditions. It develops when asbestos is breathed into the lungs and chest cavity. While the particles are not hazardous in a stable condition, if they break –- as often happens in construction, renovating, removal and repairs –- they can become airborne. The microscopic fibers become lodged in the mesothelium, a protective membrane that lines the body's major organs. This causes tissue scarring and malignant cancer cells begin replacing healthy ones.
The reason asbestos exposure is so relevant to veterans is because mesothelioma has a long latency period. That is, its symptoms can take years or even decades to appear, making diagnosis difficult. When mesothelioma is found in its later stages, it is more resistant to treatment.