Many types of veterans are at risk of exposure to asbestos. Coast Guard veterans have served the United States by safeguarding our maritime interests, patrolling our ports, waterways, rivers, and open high seas, performing life-saving ocean rescues, and ensuring maritime safety, security and environmental stewardship. These vital and hazardous tasks often placed Coast Guard veterans at great risk. Exposure to asbestos is one formidable risk incurred by veterans of Coast Guard. One example of a prominent location for the possibility of asbestos exposure was the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard, often simply called “The Yard.”
Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard History
Established in 1899, Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard was originally a training facility for new Coast Guard cadets in Baltimore, Maryland. By 1910, the Yard was converted into a ship building, repair, and renovation facility encompassing 113 acres. The Yard employed 3,000 onsite workers at the peak of its operations during World War II and was a prominent key to the ship building effort in World War II.
In preparation for their increased role as ship builders and renovators, the Coast Guard constructed Fleet Hall in 1939 as part of a modernization plan for permanent housing and wartime operations.
Coast Guard Veterans and Asbestos Exposure
Over the course of decades of construction, ship building, and renovation work, the Yard is thought to have accumulated a number of toxic chemicals and hazardous waste in ground water, surface water, soil, and sentiments. The toxic substances included:
- polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
- semi-volatile organic compounds
The Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement in 2008 to clean up the site of all toxic waste materials. In the agreement, the Coast Guard is obligated to exhaustively examine and investigate impacts associated with past activities at the Yard and take appropriate action in order to protect the environment and community.
In an attempt to protect active and future personnel, the Coast Guard has implemented a Disclosure of Environmental Health Hazards in Coast Guard Housing specifically naming asbestos as a material used in construction of Coast Guard structures:
“Housing built before 1981 may contain lead-based paint or asbestos-containing material. Asbestos or lead materials can pose health hazards if not managed properly…The Coast Guard must disclose the presence of known lead-based paint and/or asbestos-containing material in the dwelling before assigning personnel to pre-1981 housing.”
In addition to this disclosure, the Coast Guard is required to distribute a federally approved pamphlet: Asbestos Exposure Control Manual.