Called “blueberries” and “aquaflage,” the U.S. Navy’s blue camouflage uniforms have been scrutinized since being released in 2008. The Navy has listened to the calls to eliminate the blue, black, and gray Navy Working Uniform Type I, and as of October 1, 2016, sailors will be begin wearing the more lightweight, desirable green camouflage. The blue uniforms will be phased out over the next 3 years.
The problems with the blue uniforms have been wide-ranging. Aesthetically, many felt the color didn’t make any sense. Yes, they are the branch of our nation’s armed services that conducts military operations at sea — but they don’t hide in the water. Navy personnel also frequently complained that the garb was too cumbersome and prone to melting.
Protection from heat and fire has been a major issue for the Navy. In addition to replacing the melting aquaflage, Fleet Forces Command is trying to develop improved flame-resistant coveralls. In 2013, it was found that the current utility coveralls were made with synthetic fibers that could melt into a sailor if he or she were on fire.
As the Navy works to make uniforms more fire resistant, we can only hope that they are looking into safe materials that will not harm the health of the sailors, or the individuals creating the clothing. These fears are valid, as between the 1940s and 1970s, many fabrics were produced with deadly asbestos fibers woven in.
The Prevalence of Asbestos in the U.S. Navy
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring, fibrous mineral that was used in countless consumer products up until the late 1970s when most asbestos products were banned in America. Hailed for its strength and resistance to heat, asbestos fibers were incorporated into insulation, tiles, and even some clothing. At the time, the dangers of asbestos were not known. Today, however, we are aware that asbestos causes several different diseases, including mesothelioma, a rare, fatal form of cancer.
Asbestos in clothing primarily affected the health of textile workers that created the pieces because they were working with asbestos in its purer form. Asbestos is never safe, but it is even more dangerous when it is disturbed, and the fibers are released into the air for anyone to breathe. If a sailor was wearing a Navy uniform with asbestos woven in, and that suit was ripped or torn for some reason, there is a chance that asbestos fibers could be disturbed and inhaled by anyone in the surrounding area.
Asbestos in Navy uniforms, however, was not this branch’s biggest problem. The issue? Asbestos used to be everywhere — on U.S. Navy vessels, military bases, and shipyards. The deadly material was used in engine rooms, installed between steel plates and doors, covered boilers, turbines, pumps, gaskets, lagging, and rope.
The result of that asbestos use and exposure in the Navy? One-third of mesothelioma diagnoses have been shown to involve military or shipyard exposures. Also, because there is a 20-50-year latency period when it comes to mesothelioma, Navy personnel who were exposed in the 60s and 70s are just now being diagnosed.
Support U.S. Veterans Who Were Exposed to Asbestos
The U.S. Navy has come a long way and hasn’t used asbestos in ships, bases, or uniforms for decades. When their flame-resistant coveralls are finally released, they will — thankfully — not contain asbestos.
There are still many, many U.S. Navy veterans out there, however, who were not so lucky. They bravely served our country during a time when the dangers of this cancer-causing material were not known — and now they are paying the ultimate price. Be sure to support our veterans, especially those suffering from asbestos-related diseases, and thank them for their service.