Asbestos in the Iraq War

As developed countries have decreased their use of asbestos for insulation, the developing countries are increasing their use. For instance, Iraq has vastly increased their imports of asbestos-containing building materials, importing almost 25,000 tons a year. Buildings in Iraq contain large amounts of asbestos; when those building are bombed, lit on fire, or destroyed in some other way, the asbestos is released. Once in the air, asbestos can be breathed in by soldiers. Furthermore, Iraqi civilians and various military contractors may have been exposed to asbestos. Also, Iraq is known for fierce windstorms; these winds can carry asbestos a long distance, greatly expanding the range of potential health damage. All of these factors have caused asbestos to be an unsung health hazard of US military forces occupying Iraq.

Danger to Soldiers

While on the top of every soldier’s mind is the danger of a bullet or an exploding roadside bomb, asbestos can do long term and serious damage. Once it is breathed in, it lodges itself deep in the tissues of the lungs. After a long period of time between 20 to 50 years, health problems can begin. For instance, mesothelioma, an aggressive lung cancer, is linked to asbestos exposure.

Furthermore, because microscopic airborne particles that take years to cause damage are rarely a thought with troops, little has been done to prevent damage from asbestos. Also, there are no reports as to how much asbestos soldiers have been in contact with, nor much of a concern for it. A similar situation occurred in World War II, where a great many people were exposed to asbestos; in fact, it is possible that more people in the US died as a result of asbestos exposure in various war-time efforts than the number of US soldiers that died during that war. As a result, it appears that little attention is being paid to something that could be a great public health menace.

An Unregulated Substance

The reason why there is so much asbestos being used in Iraq is that there are no bans or safety measures designed to prevent the importation and use of it. An abundance of asbestos is used because it is very effective as an insulator. However, the widespread use of asbestos is sure to affect the health of US troops in decades to come.