Asbestos on Military Bases

The U.S. Armed Forces relied on asbestos for decades to build military bases and other structures. Former service members exposed to the deadly mineral are now at risk of developing mesothelioma. These veterans may qualify for disability compensation, mesothelioma treatment through the VA Health Care System, and other benefits.

Written and Fact-Checked by: Mesothelioma Hope Team

Military Bases Relied on Asbestos Products for Decades

All Military bases used high quantities of asbestos-containing products from the 1930s to the early 1980s.

America was involved in significant conflicts during this period like World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Asbestos was a prime choice for military base construction. It was fire resistant, excellent insulation, non-corrosive, and added strength to many other building products.

Asbestos was also readily available, stable to work with, and inexpensive to purchase.

But military service members exposed to airborne asbestos fibers were at a high risk of developing dangerous health problems later in life.

Health issues caused by asbestos exposure include:

  • Asbestosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma
  • Pleural plaques & effusions

Active-duty servicemen and women had no idea they were endangering their respiratory health by working on U.S. military bases built with asbestos.

Most of the general public also did not know the deadly risk of asbestos exposure. The manufacturers of asbestos-containing products knew the risks but hid them from both the U.S. military and consumers for decades to keep making money.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) realizes the risk that military veterans made.

Veterans that were exposed to asbestos on military bases — and got sick as a result — can apply for veterans benefits.

These benefits can allow veterans with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases to receive monthly compensation and health care from top VA doctors.

Veterans can also receive financial compensation through other means, including legal action.

Use of Asbestos on Military Bases

The use of asbestos on military bases was rampant. Every American military base built from the 1930s to the early 1980s used products with asbestos-containing materials.

Army, Air Force, and Marine bases were no exception to asbestos exposure. It could be found everywhere from hangars to homes on their military bases.

Asbestos was an ingredient in:

  • Acoustical tiles
  • Cement powder additives
  • Fireproofing material
  • Floor tiles
  • Gaskets
  • Glue
  • Insulation
  • Paint
  • Pipes
  • Roofing shingles
  • Sealant
  • Wallboard

Learn how different branches used asbestos on military bases below.

Asbestos on U.S. Air Force Bases

Americans working at or visiting U.S. Air Force bases were unaware that asbestos could be found throughout them.

Air Force buildings, aircraft, and vehicles all contained asbestos.

Asbestos is a great insulator, and it is fire-resistant, strong, cheap to purchase, and non-corrosive. When the mineral is added to other products, it passes along these properties.

These factors led the Air Force to rely on asbestos for decades.

Asbestos could be found in Air Force:

  • Boilers
  • Brakes
  • Cement
  • Cockpit heating systems
  • Drywall
  • Electrical wiring
  • Engine heat shields
  • Gaskets
  • Insulation
  • Pipes
  • Tiles
  • Valves

Asbestos-containing products were even used in the personal protective equipment worn by Air Force firefighters and welders.

Asbestos on U.S. Army Bases

Anyone working or living on an Army base before the 1980s may have been exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos was used in nearly all areas that Army veterans and their families lived, worked, ate, and slept.

Asbestos could be found in Army:

  • Boilers
  • Brakes
  • Cement
  • Construction materials
  • Electrical wiring
  • Engine heat shields
  • Gaskets
  • Insulation
  • Pipes
  • Valves

Asbestos-containing materials were used to build and repair Army bases, vehicles, and equipment.

The U.S. Army added asbestos to products to provide insulation and protection from fire and extreme heat.

Veterans should learn more about their treatment options — and how to pay for expenses — after being diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness

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Asbestos on U.S. Coast Guard Bases

Asbestos was found in a wide range of materials aboard Coast Guard vessels to protect these ships from fires.

All areas surrounding the engine, boiler room, and other high-heat areas on the lower deck of Coast Guard vessels were insulated with asbestos.

Asbestos could be found in Coast Guard:

  • Adhesives
  • Construction materials
  • Pipes
  • Rope
  • Sealers
  • Thermal insulation

Americans working on Coast Guard bases and vessels throughout the country before the 1980s may have been exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos on U.S. Marine Corps Bases

Members of the U.S. Marine Corps who served between the 1930s and early 1980s may have been exposed to asbestos in buildings, facilities, vehicles, and equipment on bases.

Asbestos was added to various types of construction materials to construct and repair buildings and facilities on Marine Corps bases.

Asbestos could be found in Marine:

  • Brakes
  • Bedding
  • Boiler insulation
  • Electrical wiring insulation
  • Engine heat shields
  • Floor tiles
  • Gaskets
  • Pipes
  • Roofing materials
  • Valves

Marines were commonly exposed to asbestos within sleeping quarters as asbestos could be found in bedding and in pipe insulation above beds.

Asbestos could also be found in Marine Corps vehicles — in brakes, gaskets, and engine parts.

Asbestos on U.S. Navy Bases

Navy veterans who served before the 1980s may have been exposed to asbestos on Navy bases while sleeping or eating in buildings, working in facilities, or operating vehicles.

Asbestos could be found in Navy:

  • Insulation
  • Drywall
  • Tiles
  • Cement
  • Pipes
  • Boilers
  • Gaskets
  • Brakes
  • Engine heat shields
  • Electrical wiring insulation

The U.S. Navy also used a significant amount of asbestos in shipbuilding facilities and on ships.

This amount was primarily due to asbestos seeming the perfect material for fireproofing and insulation for boats and ships.

As a result, Navy veterans had the highest rate of asbestos exposure out of any military branch.

Military Bases and Exposure of Service Personnel to Asbestos

The health risks of asbestos were relatively low among military veterans provided the asbestos-based products were not disturbed.

Most workers were exposed to asbestos on military bases when they cut, drilled, sawed, sanded, and fit asbestos-containing products as part of building projects.

The risk also increased when old asbestos materials became friable (easily crumbled). This could make it easier for asbestos fibers to enter the air and be inhaled.

Military personnel could unknowingly inhale large amounts of asbestos since the fibers are invisible.

These fibers can never leave once inside the body — and since they are a foreign object, they would constantly irritate healthy tissue.

The irritation of these asbestos fibers can cause scar tissue to form over and healthy cells to mutate. This causes such as mesothelioma to form.

There is a lengthy latency period for developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases since the fibers slowly cause irritation.

Mesothelioma Development Times

Most mesothelioma cases take 20-50 years to develop after initial exposure to asbestos fibers.

Outside of asbestos on military bases, some veterans may have been exposed after they left the service. Asbestos-containing products were used in dozens of other products and occupations.

Any veteran with mesothelioma should see if they qualify for compensation to pay for their medical expenses.

Compensation for Mesothelioma Victims

After a mesothelioma diagnosis, veterans may feel confused, scared, or angry.

Thankfully, veterans who developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos on military bases can apply for compensation.

Funds are available for medical expenses, lost income and personal suffering.

Compensation can be accessed through: ​

  • Asbestos trust funds
  • Mesothelioma lawsuits
  • VA claims

Families can also claim on behalf of relatives or loved ones with mesothelioma as well — even if a veteran has already died.

To learn more about asbestos on military bases — and how to receive compensation — get a free case review today.


Mesothelioma Hope was founded by a team of passionate health advocates to educate people about this aggressive form of cancer. Mesothelioma affects thousands of people each year. Our team works tirelessly to give hope to those impacted by mesothelioma. Learn more about operating principles and our Editorial Guidelines.

3 References
  1. Asbestos Illness Related to Military Service. Accessed April 18, 2020

  2. U.S. Army. (October 27, 2014). Asbestos can Only Pose Danger when Airborne. Accessed April 18, 2020.

  3. VA U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (September 27, 2019). Veterans Asbestos Exposure. Accessed April 18, 2020.

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