Asbestos in Iraq and the Middle East is a thing to worry for U.S. military personnel who are stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan, apart from security threats, roadside attacks, bombings, an intense environment and, of course, the welfare of their loved ones back home. Few of the troops stationed in the Middle East are concerned about high levels of asbestos exposure, although they should be. This naturally occurring material remains unregulated in many parts of the Middle East, meaning that the buildings around them could be toxic.
While asbestos is still legal in some areas of the United States, it has been slowly phased out of new construction and made safe in existing structures. In the Middle East, regulations have been slow to catch up. The only two countries in the Middle East that have banned asbestos are Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Iraq and other countries in the region have not set any guidelines regulating the materials. Consequently, United States military personnel, contractors and reporters, as well as local civilians, can be exposed to Asbestos in Iraq and the Middle East in many different ways.
Older buildings, which are often filled with various asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), may be abandoned and deteriorated. This means that the stucco, plaster, drywall and insulation within them will become friable, which means they can easily release asbestos dust and particles into the air. Additionally, these buildings are often hit by gunfire or by explosives, which can also result in the asbestos fibers becoming airborne. Even soldiers who aren’t in the immediate vicinity of an explosion can still be at risk for inhaling Asbestos in Iraq and the Middle East, as strong Iraq winds can blow the contamination across the desert.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they become lodged in the body, where they form tumors. Mesothelioma can lie dormant within a person’s body up to 50 years after exposure. Many veterans who were exposed on ships during World War II or the Korean War are just being diagnosed with the disease. Complicating the diagnosis, the symptoms are often misinterpreted as those of other, more common respiratory illnesses, such as emphysema, bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). By the time an accurate diagnosis has been made, the condition may be too far advanced to effectively treat.
Since Asbestos in Iraq and the Middle East will probably not be addressed by the emerging Iraqi government any time soon, it’s up the United States military to protect our brave men and women in uniform. Returning veterans should also educate themselves about the early symptoms of mesothelioma and let their doctors know of any potential exposure to Asbestos in Iraq and the Middle East they may have experienced while serving their country abroad.