Asbestos in the Coast Guard
While Coast Guard service men and women, as well as all of those that work in various branches of the U.S. military can expect danger in their profession, not all risks come from expected sources. Among those threats associated with military service are dangers that are not derived from the enemy. Some threats facing the men and women who serve came from a preventable and unexpected source, a naturally occurring substance known as asbestos. In regards to the Coast Guard, there is a specific facility where exposure risks were the highest. This facility is the location that accounts for the majority of mesothelioma cases diagnosed within this particular branch of the military.
The U.S. Coast Guard operates only one shipbuilding site, which is considered their primary repair facility, known as the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard is located near Baltimore, Maryland. The shipyard was originally a training facility established in 1899, which was later converted to a shipbuilding and repair site in 1920. The shipyard currently remains in use as a 113-acre industrial support center for the Coast Guard. The facility is referred to as “The Yard,” and at its peak operation during World War II supported over 3,000 on-site employees.
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Unfortunately, the use of asbestos was not regulated in the Coast Guard shipyard until the 1980s, when the U.S. government instituted various policies concerning the use of the hazardous material. Before these regulations, almost all facets of the shipyard used asbestos in one form or another, including:
- Boiler room equipment
- Electrical insulation
- Standard multipurpose cloth
- Welding drops or blankets
Asbestos and asbestos-containing materials were also used during construction, as it was considered good for insulation or fireproofing.
The result of such heavy asbestos use by the U.S. Coast Guard in the shipyard was exposure leading to numerous health risks, including asbestos-related illness and disease. Since the regulations did not curb asbestos use until the mid-1980s, many men and women serving in the Coast Guard were heavily exposed. Although regulations now prohibit the use of asbestos, Coast Guard members in the shipyard might still have low levels of exposure due to hidden or improperly covered particles.
Long term exposure results in the development of asbestos related diseases, such as mesothelioma or asbestosis, which are both potentially life threatening, and require expensive medical treatments. A diagnosis of mesothelioma in particular generally includes a poor prognosis, as the cancer is not likely to present symptoms until decades following exposure. Reports concerning mesothelioma suggest that as many as 30 percent of the individuals who develop the disease, served in the military.