How Do Navy Personnel Get Exposed to Harmful Chemicals?

U.S. Navy personnel or maritime workers are exposed to many hazardous conditions when on the job. Despite their selfless duty and exceptional skills, they’re still susceptible to chemical exposure while working at sea or on a marine base. 

Reports suggest that approximately 600,000 service members across 166 military installations have been affected by unsafe levels of toxins. This exposure can eventually lead them to develop health issues like cancer, skin rashes, organ failure, etc.

In this blog, we’ll aim to explore how Naval personnel get exposed to chemicals, the types of toxins they’re exposed to, and more.

Types of Chemicals a Maritime Worker Gets Exposed To

Reports suggest that approximately 347,000 Navy personnel will be employed by the U.S. military in 2024. However, most of these individuals will be exposed to different chemicals while on base or at sea without their knowledge. 

For instance, when on a ship, maritime workers get exposed to the fumes from gasoline, crude oil, or diesel. Similarly, they’re exposed to acetone, benzene, or toluene from using chemical cleaning solvents. 

They aren’t safe when on base, either. That’s because they can get exposed to toxic water caused by on-base chemical leaks and off-base waste disposal methods

Even the equipment they use might have high chemical levels. For example, some firefighting foam might contain forever chemicals. Other than that, they’re exposed to degreasers, toxic metals, pesticides, chlorine, etc.

The Navy’s Bittersweet Relationship With AFFF: An Example

The Navy has used AFFF, or aqueous film-forming foam, since 1970 to deal with dangerous flammable liquid fires. They used this firefighting foam on aircraft carriers, during training exercises, on airstrips, etc. 

This fire extinguisher was an effective way to avert fuel-related disasters. AFFF created a foam layer that easily cut off the oxygen supply during a fuel-ignited fire. However, this fire extinguisher wasn’t ‘perfect’ because it contained high levels of per-and-polyfluorinated substances (PFAS). 

PFAS is a forever chemical that’s harmful to human health if ingested or inhaled. Even then, companies using PFAS in their products hid the dangers from the public to maintain profitability. However, their failure to warn and the misinformation shared angered the Navy personnel, and they filed product liability lawsuits. 

The AFFF lawsuit by Navy personnel alleges that the manufacturing companies failed to warn them about the impending dangers of using AFFF without proper protection. Hence, they wanted compensation for the damages caused and reimbursement for their medical bills. The legal community believes the individual settlement amounts can vary between USD 10,000 and USD 300,000. 

According to TruLaw, approximately 2,500 cases have been consolidated into multi-district litigation (MDL). To win this lawsuit, maritime workers should have records of their medical expenses, information on their cancer diagnosis, a documented history to link health effects with PFAS exposure, etc. 

How Can This Exposure Occur?

Naval personnel can get exposed to chemicals in many ways. Let’s take a look at these instances: 

#1. Inhalation

They can breathe in toxic chemicals if they aren’t wearing proper protective equipment. Inhaling toxins can lead to a burning sensation in the lungs, mouth, airway, and throat. In some cases, continuous exposure to harmful elements can also lead to cancer and asphyxiation.

#2. Skin Contact

Chemicals can seep into a maritime worker’s body through soft tissue. These include the areas near the eyes and nose. Harsh chemicals can lead to skin irritation, allergic reactions, and sometimes skin cancer. 

#3. Ingestion

Naval personnel might accidentally swallow hazardous chemicals present in their food or water. Ingestion can damage the throat lining, cause stomach aches, and hurt the intestines. Some chemicals might also stay in the body for prolonged periods, leading to complicated health conditions. 

A Maritime Worker’s Symptoms When Exposed to Hazardous Chemicals 

Each individual will have different symptoms based on the type of chemical, frequency of exposure, and strength of the elements. Usually, Navy personnel don’t associate the following symptoms with chemical exposure: 

  • Nausea, vomiting, and fatigue
  • Skin rashes and body aches
  • Lightheadedness and severe headaches
  • Whooping cough or wheezing 

Similarly, the acute symptoms of chemical exposure include the following: 

  • Serious-looking and painful chemical burns 
  • Blood with coughing, mucus, and saliva 
  • Chest pain, leading to breathing problems 
  • Liver, lung, and kidney failure

If they’re exposed to AFFF, they might develop different types of cancer, diabetes, infertility, liver damage, elevated cholesterol, etc. 

In summary, a maritime worker needs to be extra careful when working near or with equipment that contains harmful chemicals. Moreover, proper protection while doing their jobs or training could also help them avoid exposure through ingestion, skin contact, and inhalation. 

The U.S. Navy also needs to take proper action and precautions to ensure their safety. Regular chemical testing on their equipment, drinking water, etc., could help. Doing so will ensure that workers don’t get exposed to harmful chemicals daily.

Leave a Comment

You cannot copy content of this page