Firefighters and Mesothelioma
Firefighters have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos in older structures on fire as well as carrying asbestos on their clothes.
The Hidden Risk Firefighters Face
It’s no secret that firefighters put themselves in dangerous environments with poor air quality. Firefighters are at risk of inhaling a plethora of dangerous toxins, including asbestos. Although not the most immediate danger in the face of a fire, asbestos exposure should not be overlooked. Learn more about the risks of asbestos exposure in our free Mesothelioma Guide.
Firefighting is an occupation in which asbestos awareness is particularly important. Learning as much as possible about asbestos and how to protect against exposure are key to reducing the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.
Firefighters face the risk of exposure to several respiratory toxins that may be released in fires. Asbestos is one of the most harmful toxins in this group. It can be found in older homes in insulation, roofing material and other building applications.
After the first plane crashed into the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001, firefighters were some of the first people on the scene. Unfortunately, the twin towers were built with tons of asbestos—posing a severe exposure risk.
Since asbestos has most commonly been used as a fire retardant, it seems only natural that firefighters may encounter it while doing their job. Indeed, a study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) revealed a telling statistic that firefighters have twice the risk of developing mesothelioma than the general public.
The most common form of asbestos exposure for firefighters occurs when asbestos is released into the air from burning or collapsing buildings. There are a slew of building materials used in homes (generally those built before the 1980s) that may contain asbestos. Some of these materials may include:
Firefighter Exposure Risks
Additionally, in its heyday, asbestos was seen as a wonder material for its insulative and fire resistant properties. Therefore, protective equipment for firefighters in the past may have contained asbestos as well.
The attacks on 9/11 required the help of hundreds of firefighters and other emergency and rescue workers. It also resulted in the loss of countless lives, including 343 brave firefighters. Unfortunately, those who survived the attacks may still face health issues associated with the attacks.
In the wake of the collapse of the buildings, firefighters were exposed to deadly toxins released in the form of a wave of toxic dust. Over 400 tons of asbestos released into the air upon the collapse. Firefighters at Ground Zero were most likely unaware of the risk this dust posed on their future health.
Fortunately, in addition to occupational health benefits received by firefighters, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act now covers over 50 cancers, including mesothelioma.
Tips for Firefighters
Given the increased risk of asbestos exposure faced by firefighters, it is important for firefighters to stay on their toes about potential exposure scenarios. The first step firefighters should take to protect themselves is to educate themselves about asbestos.
Below are some tips for firefighters to stay safe.
- Wash all clothing and equipment on scene to avoid potentially spreading asbestos elsewhere.
- Always wear self-contained breathing apparatus to avoid inhaling microscopic asbestos particles.
- In areas of buildings where firefighters are working, wet the area down first as this prevents asbestos particles from being released into the air.
- Learn as much as possible about what products and buildings may contain asbestos and what asbestos looks like.