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33 US Navy sailors hospitalized for potential exposure to ship exhaust fumes

Workers put the finishing touches on the camouflage paint for the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth. (Lt. Kurt Draper/U.S. Navy)
July 14, 2021

Thirty-three U.S. Navy sailors were sent to the hospital Monday due to “potential” exposure to diesel exhaust from USS Michigan’s engine.

A Navy spokesperson told the Washington Examiner that the sailors were sent for a medical evaluation “out of an abundance of caution” after being assigned to the vessel at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington state. The ship has been docked there since July 2019.

“They were directed to a local hospital for evaluation following up potential diesel engine exhaust exposure. The Navy in the Submarine Force takes the health and safety of our sailors very seriously,” said Navy Mass Communications Specialist Rebecca Ives.

The potential exposure took place on July 11 and was reported a day later, Ives noted.

Ives said two of the sailors had reported “mild symptoms of acute respiratory distress,” but the remaining 31 troops did not report any issues. All service members were subsequently released from the hospital.

Commissioned in 1982, USS Michigan spent more than two years at sea before arriving at the shipyard in May 2019, where it was dry-docked later that year.

Exposure to toxins is an ongoing issue in the military, with thousands of troops having fallen ill from exposure to burn pits while deployed overseas, and struggling to acquire the resources and treatment needed for the often terminal health effects.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it will start the process to expand critical health care benefits to veterans exposed to toxic chemicals as a result of burn pits and other air-quality issues in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere since the Persian Gulf War, but some veterans’ advocates say it’s not enough.

According to a VA press release, the department will begin the process to expand benefits for disability claims linked to “the role that particulate matter pollution plays in generating chronic respiratory conditions, which may include asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis for Veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations during the Persian Gulf War and/or after September 19, 2001, or in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan during the Persian Gulf War.”

“VA is establishing a holistic approach to determining toxic exposure presumption going forward. We are moving out smartly in initiating action to consider these and other potential new presumptions, grounded in science and in keeping with my authority as Secretary of VA,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough in a statement.

The VA also decided to begin processing claims for new conditions presumptively associated with exposure to herbicide agents, commonly known as Agent Orange. The conditions include bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.