Asbestos in the Coast Guard

Until the late 1970s, American shipyards were saturated by asbestos-containing material. The mineral was championed through the majority of the twentieth century for its extraordinary properties and array of potential applications. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is extremely resistant to friction and chemical and biological degradation, low in price, fire-proof, and exceptionally durable. Because of this, the United States military used asbestos in abundance in construction of its ships. What is most troubling about its use is the early recognition of the adverse health effects associated with asbestos. The first of such reports surfaced in England in the 1920s, and by the 1930s, American companies, including the military, were clearly aware of the fatal risks associated with asbestos. The involvement of the United States in World War II, however, spurred its use in military vessels and led to an explosion of its use in insulation and friction products.

Veterans of the U.S. Coast Guard are at a high risk for development of asbestos-related diseases. In recent years, there has been an increase in veteran diagnosis of mesothelioma, which develops 20 to 50 years after initial exposure. Asbestosis, lung cancer, and colon cancer are other asbestos-related illnesses with similar latency periods. Asbestos attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm warn Coast Guard veterans of possible exposure, and urge those who developed a related asbestos disease to contact our firm immediately.

Specific parts manufactured with asbestos include gaskets, turbines, pumps, pipes and plumbing. Areas insulated with asbestos were all those surrounding the engine and boiler rooms and electrical units. Even ropes used throughout the vessels were woven with the hazardous fibers.

Today, the Coast Guard has many regulations and standards to control asbestos exposure, of which all factions are subject to compliance. Their current Asbestos Management Plan is to manage asbestos containing materials (ACM) at a command in a systematic, risk- prioritized manner. The overall philosophy of this policy is to, whenever possible, “manage ACM in place.” For cutters, because of the unique characteristics of afloat commands, every effort should be made to properly remove asbestos- containing material in accordance with Federal and State regulations using trained personnel during the cutter’s yard availabilities.

According to a Command Report, the requirements include:

a. Occupational Exposure Level. Unprotected personnel shall not be exposed to airborne asbestos fiber concentrations greater than 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter (0.1 f/cc) averaged over an eight-hour day.

b. Non-occupational Exposure Level. In areas specifically designated for berthing, lodging, or housing, personnel shall not be exposed to airborne asbestos fiber concentrations greater than 0.01 fibers per cubic centimeter (0.01 f/cc) in accordance with the guidance in reference (f).

c. The fabrication, installation, or use of new asbestos- containing material is prohibited, except where there is no satisfactory substitute. Where technical manuals, instructions, drawings or parts lists call out materials or parts containing asbestos, the manufacturer shall be contacted to determine if there are technically suitable alternative parts or materials.

Each commanding officer or, if applicable, group commander is required to maintain an inventory asbestos containing material identified at their command or at units within their group. Only the Yard and ISC Ketchikan have trained personnel who can conduct asbestos removal projects. Most asbestos rehab is contracted out.

In 2006, Occupational and Environmental Medicine published a study concerning the mortality rate at the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard in Maryland. The study reported of an excess of lung cancer and mesothelioma mortality in men and women civilian workers in the Yard, who were employed between 1950 and 1964. The Curtis Bay Yard is the exclusive site used by the U.S. Coast Guard for shipbuilding and repair. The Yard was founded in 1899 as a training facility and continues to be used for industrial purposes.

In 1995, the Commandant developed and initiated a strategy to identify and evaluate environmental health risks present in Coast Guard ashore living environments. This included the inspection and risk assessment of Coast Guard living environments to identify the location and condition of asbestos-containing materials, lead and radon. These assessments have come to be known as the statistical baseline Environmental Risk Assessments (ERA).

Members of the United States Coast Guard put their lives at risk for our country. It is primarily those with history at the Curtis Bay Yard whose lives continue to be put in jeopardy. Lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm urge veterans of the U.S. Coast Guard to receive regular medical check-ups, and if developments of any asbestos-related illnesses occur, contact our office immediately for a free legal consultation.