Pearl Harbor Asbestos Exposure Linked to Veterans’ Mesothelioma

The Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 that killed more than 2,400 Americans, wounded nearly 1,200 others, and plunged the country into World War II, also exposed more than 10,000 service members to high levels of airborne asbestos when the shipyards were bombed.

Many of these men and women later suffered from asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma, a cancer of the tissue that covers the majority of the internal organs (mesothelium).

The attorneys at Parker Waichman note that asbestos exposure is the primary risk factor for the development of mesothelioma.

When asbestos fibers are released into the air, they can be inhaled and become embedded inside the body. These microscopic fibers can cause inflammation, leading to scarring and genetic changes that can lead to cancer and the chronic lung disease asbestosis. But the process is slow: asbestos-induced diseases can take from 20 to 50 years to develop after exposure. This is why many who served on naval ships or worked in the defense industry in the 1940s did not get sick until the sixties, seventies or later.

“Miracle Mineral”

Asbestos was once called the “miracle mineral” for its strength, sound absorption, and heat and fire resistance properties. For decades asbestos was widely used in applications including insulation, brakes, fire resistant fabrics, shingles, ceiling tiles, wallboard, and flooring. Naval ships contained asbestos as a fireproofing material from the 1930s through the 1970s. Asbestos was one of the components in the cloud of toxic dust released in the September 11 Twin Towers collapse.

Asbestos exposure was a risk for a wide range of people: asbestos miners, auto mechanics and auto plant workers, boat builders and shipyard workers, ceiling and floor tile makers and installers, construction workers, custodians, demolition crews, electricians, painters, railroad workers, and workers in factories that manufactured plastic or heat-resistant fabrics and clothing. Even family members of people who worked with asbestos were at risk from asbestos fibers carried home on a worker’s clothing. The World War II generation has been particularly hard hit by asbestos-related diseases. They were exposed to asbestos during the massive defense manufacturing efforts during the war and the building boom after the war.

In 1983, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set out restrictions on asbestos, and since then use of asbestos has declined sharply. But because asbestos use was so widespread for many earlier decades in the 20th century, asbestos is still found in many older buildings, including homes and schools. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned new uses for asbestos. Because asbestos is now known to be so dangerous, federal, state, and local authorities have developed strict asbestos abatement protocols to ensure that asbestos can be safely removed from buildings without exposing building occupants or workers to the dangerous fibers.

Mesothelioma: An Aggressive and Deadly Disease

Malignant mesothelioma most often affects the tissue that surrounds the lungs (pleura), but can also affect tissue in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), around the heart, and around the testicles. The Mayo Clinic explains mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer and for most people a cure is not possible. Doctors may be able to control the cancer for a time through a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Nearly 10,000 veterans die each year from asbestos-related diseases. But it can be difficult to determine if asbestos exposure at Pearl Harbor caused mesothelioma. Many people exposed to asbestos during WWII military service later worked with asbestos in a post-war occupation.

Hope for Treatment

Australian researchers say they have discovered new information about the way asbestos-related tumors grow and this may show the way toward better treatments. Scientists at Flinders University in Adelaide have found that malignant mesothelioma tumors are able to transform into blood vessels, promoting their own growth, ABC News (Australia) reports. Associate Professor Sonja Klebe said tumor cells branch out, growing blood vessels that reach out into surrounding tissues, tapping into the vascular system.

Existing tumor treatments target blood vessels that grow into the cancer, rather than the other way around. Prof. Klebe thinks a future treatment approach could involve treating both types of blood vessels to more or less “starve” the tumor of it blood supply.

Legal Help for Victims of Asbestos Exposure

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or has suffered other side effects from asbestos exposure, the attorneys of Parker Waichman LLP are uniquely qualified to handle such cases. To reach the firm for a free, no obligation case evaluation, fill out the contact form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).



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