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
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.
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.
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
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.