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Air Force veterans were exposed to asbestos, a cancer-causing mineral, during active duty. Veterans who served in the Air Force from the 1930s to the 1970s are at risk for developing mesothelioma and may qualify for VA benefits.

Asbestos in the Air Force

At the beginning of WWII the Air Force, like other branches of the military, recognized the the usefulness of asbestos. The mineral’s natural heat resistance made it the perfect material for the construction of planes.

The unprecedented growth of the Air Force that occurred during WWII increased the use of asbestos in planes and in bases. This expanded use of exposed many Air Force veterans to the mineral’s cancer-causing properties.

Air Force veterans who were exposed to asbestos run the risk of developing mesothelioma, a rare cancer. Knowing more about how and where veterans in the Air Force were exposed to can help them determine their next steps.

At Risk Air Force Veterans

Any veteran who served in the Air Force was unknowingly put at risk for exposure to asbestos. Because of the nature of their occupation, Air Force mechanics were especially vulnerable to asbestos exposure.

The naturally heat resistant mineral was used extensively in planes where the most heat and friction occurred, like brake pads.

Brake pads were a common site of intense friction. They were often coated with asbestos insulation to guard against friction fires. As the pads underwent normal use, however, the intense heat made it easier for microscopic fibers to break free from the lining. An Air Force mechanic would be exposed to these loose fibers while changing the brakes or performing routine maintenance on the aircraft. Free-floating asbestos fibers can be inhaled and become lodged in the lining of the lungs or abdomen, causing

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Where Asbestos Was Used in the Air Force

Air Force veterans primarily came into contact with asbestos using and maintaining planes. Asbestos was used in a plane anywhere fire damage was a concern, such as in the cockpit, the engine and electrical components throughout the plane.

Air Force veterans may have been exposed to asbestos-containing materials in the following applications:

  • Fire proof clothing
  • Brake and clutch pads
  • Transmission parts
  • Gaskets
  • Cockpit heating systems
  • Heat shields protecting the engine
  • Insulation for electrical components, such as wiring


Air Force servicemen were exposed to asbestos on land as well. Bases were constructed using asbestos-containing materials for the same reasons the mineral was used on planes. Asbestos was used to insulate the walls of sleeping quarters in barracks and the pipes running through the walls the base.

Chanute Air Force base, located in Rantoul, Illinois, was one of the first few airbases opened in the early part of the 20th century. Like many bases constructed in the first half of the 20th century, asbestos was used in some of Chanute’s key structures, such as in its largest building (White Hall). After the base closed in 1993, the Air Force initiated a clean up effort to remove asbestos and other toxic substances. The cleanup is estimated to cost upwards of 100 million dollars and is expected to be completed by 2015.

Next Steps for Air Force Veterans

Asbestos was prized for its heat-resistant properties and was used throughout the military. Air Force veterans who have developed mesothelioma from service-connected asbestos exposure have options. The VA recognizes the connection between mesothelioma and asbestos and offers disability compensation to help pay for treatment.

If you’re an Air Force veteran who’s been diagnosed with service-related mesothelioma, our Veterans Help Team can help you submit a claim to the VA and access the benefits you deserve. Contact a member of our Veterans Help Team and get more information on how we help you file a claim with the VA.