This post is sponsored by O2 Tactical.
You’ve been trained to recognize threats. You can spot an IED, read an unruly crowd, identify enemy armor from klicks away, and you know a predatory car loan when you see one. But what about those threats that don’t keep you up at night? What about the threats you can’t see?
The operational tempo of the last two decades has exposed military personnel to a myriad of dangers on and off the battlefield. While the conducting of combat operations poses the most obvious direct threat to our service members’ health, the existence of more discreet threats should not be overlooked. Respiratory health risks exist, both on the battlefield and in training environments, and mitigation should be prioritized to ensure both the health and safety of our service members and the combat effectiveness of our nation’s armed forces.
Fortunately, unseen doesn’t mean unidentified. Here are a few examples of the most pervasive invisible threats:
Lead dust exposure
Exposure to lead is an inevitable byproduct of firearms training. When a weapon is fired, small amounts of lead particles are discharged into the air, posing a risk to shooters and weapons instructors alike. These particles are expelled through the ejection port on the firearm as the spent casing is ejected, as well as from the muzzle as the bullet leaves the barrel. Although invisible to the naked eye, these particles can be inhaled and accumulate on skin and clothing.
Because of the occupational necessity of range training time for military, law enforcement and security personnel, this population may be at risk for higher BLL (Blood Lead Levels). Lead is a heavy metal that has long been associated with a variety of health risks ranging from heart and kidney disease to reduced fertility, memory loss and cancer. Children tend to be more susceptible to lead poisoning and may be exposed second-hand through interaction with personnel in contaminated uniforms. These risks can be mitigated by eliminating food and drink at firing ranges, promptly changing clothes after a range session, and of course, proper ventilation at shooting ranges and facilities.The threats posed by lead dust exposure are very real, and the Department of Defense has taken notice. As of April 2017, DoD made their lead exposure levels more restrictive than the OSHA standard, in an effort to limit the prolonged exposure of personnel. The Army has also published guidance to their personnel as to ways to reduce the risks to themselves and their families.
Burn pits have been used extensively in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of waste products, and their use has generated a lot of media attention over the last several years, and with good reason. Thousands of veterans were likely exposed to the harmful fumes caused by the burning of waste products, food scraps, trash, tires, plastics, batteries, and a whole host of other items. Since the Veterans Administration established the voluntary burn pit registry to keep track of burn pit exposure, more than 180,000 veterans have registered. While there are several potential causes of respiratory health problems while deployed, ranging from sandstorms to exposure to diesel exhaust, burn pits are suspected of causing a variety of problems. Some of these include asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart conditions, leukemia and lung cancer.
While less of a concern today, asbestos was a commonly used material for a variety of construction-related purposes from the 1930s to the 1970s. Although the practice of using asbestos ended in the 1970s and the military has made a concerted effort to limit personnel to its exposure, the material remained in buildings for the following decades. The material was used as insulation in walls, floors and pipes, and even in aircraft and vehicle brakes and gaskets. Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a type of cancer that develops from the thin layer of tissue that covers many of the internal organs, notably the lungs and chest wall. There are many MOS’ that are at higher risk of asbestos exposure to include carpenters, pipefitters, aircraft mechanics, welders, electrician’s mates, and Seabees. For more information regarding asbestos exposure and the benefits available to you, please visit https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/hazardous-materials-exposure/asbestos/
Service in the military is undoubtedly an honorable profession that comes with inherent hazards to both health and safety. Service members should take control of their safety when it is possible to avoid dangers that are both seen and unseen.
Companies like O2 Tactical are at the forefront in addressing these threats. The company, which is comprised of engineers, designers, veterans and industry experts, has developed the TR2 Tactical Respirator II respiratory system with the operator in mind.