Study Shows Ongoing Threat of Asbestos in the Military

A study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) shows that efforts to minimize occupational exposure to asbestos fibers have not prevented asbestos related diseases developing in the younger generation.  The study used a matrix of years of potential life lost before the age of 65 because of asbestos. Using that scale, the study showed that asbestos related premature deaths during the period 2001 to 2005 are up 64% over the period from 1968 to 1972.

What these figures suggest is that almost forty years after most asbestos products were removed from the market; asbestosis and asbestos cancer are continuing to take their toll.  The researchers noted that because of the latency period of these diseases – which can reach forty or more years – the continuing mortality rate may stem partially from asbestos exposure that occurred decades ago.  But they also noted that efforts to limit occupational asbestos exposures began decades ago as well.

The editors of the publication where the study was published explained that years of potential life lost “is a measure of premature mortality that emphasizes deaths occurring among younger persons during their most productive years.”   Hence, the substantial increase during the 38-plus years of the study reflects an increase in asbestosis-related deaths among younger workers.

“These results demonstrate that asbestosis-attributable [premature deaths] continue to occur and that efforts to prevent, track, and eliminate asbestosis need to be maintained,” the researchers wrote.

The industry most often associated with asbestosis-related deaths was construction, accounting for 43 deaths among workers younger than 65 and 28.1% of years of potential life lost in this population.  The doctors who conducted the study said that most occupational exposure to asbestos now occurs during building renovation and demolition.

In addition, some 2,200 metric tons of asbestos were used in 2006 in domestic manufacturing, indicating that industrial exposures still occur.   Other industries that included lesser death rates but  were worthy of note included ship building and repairing, the military, motor vehicle servicing, chemicals, and national security and international affairs.

Some military sites can and are hazardous asbestos sites as well.  The continuing loss of younger workers to asbestosis includes veterans and shipyard workers, both categories that ranked near the top for fatalities during the first thirty year period after asbestos was banned.

Construction and demolition is occurring constantly at domestic military posts – buildings that went up during the postwar period of the 50s and 60s are now coming down, asbestos and all.  Those projects can pose a hazard to soldiers and sailors on active duty, as can some of the Navy’s older ships.  The threat of asbestosis and asbestos cancer did not disappear along with the market for asbestos products.  The threat remains and is still claiming the lives of veterans under 65.

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