Around 130 North Carolina firefighters were reportedly ordered to train on a building that was constructed with asbestos-containing materials, according to local station, WSOCTV.
The stations reports that firefighters trained at an old Sears department store building in Gastonia, where asbestos was found below the roof. The firefighters told local news station that they started training on the roof of the building in Dec. 2016. Almost all of the firefighters in training cut holes in the roof and used sledgehammers to break, which released toxic asbestos fibers into the air.
Gastonia engineers indicated in Aug. 2016 that there was likely asbestos in the old Sears building, yet the firefighters were never made aware of it prior to training. When city officials learned of the asbestos, they changed policies to reflect that all buildings must be inspected before any training can take place. However, officials learned of the asbestos problem months after the training began.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Gastonia Fire Department “did not exercise due diligence to inform firefighters about the presence and location of asbestos containing material prior to conducting training, potentially exposing firefighters to asbestos.”
Subsequently, OSHA fined the city $77,000, which was later reduced to $33,000.
Meanwhile, hundreds of firefighters in the city are now at risk of developing life-threatening illnesses. It’s unclear whether any of the firefighters are planning to pursue an asbestos lawsuit.
Firefighters and Asbestos
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) stated that firefighting is an occupation with one of the highest risks of asbestos exposure. Firefighters enter old buildings frequently and are faced with asbestos, soot, smoke, fumes, and other toxic substances.
NIOSH, along with the the United States Fire Administration (USFA), conducted a study in 2003 and 2010 of over 18,000 current and retired firefighters, which indicated that firefighters are at heightened risk of developing mesothelioma, asbestosis, and asbestos-related lung cancer. Firefighters are also at a heightened risk of developing bladder cancer, leukemia, and kidney cancer.
Asbestos, a natural carcinogen, has microscopic, odorless, fibers that can be easily ingested and inhaled without realizing it. Once these tiny fibers are inside the system, it’s almost impossible for the body to dispel them all. The fibers then attach to linings of the major organs, such as the lungs, stomach, and heart.
Over time, the asbestos fibers become cancerous. With early intervention, victims have the best chance of removing the cancerous tumors. The problem, however, is that symptoms of asbestos illnesses stay dormant for up to 50 years. Once someone notices the symptoms, the disease has generally progressed into its later stages.
It’s crucial for firefighters and anyone else who may have been exposed to asbestos to get regular medical checkups. Be sure to tell your doctor that you may have had asbestos exposure, otherwise they may fail to run testing, as asbestos diseases are still considered rare in the medical world.
In the meantime, there are certain precautions firefighters should take while on the job, which include:
- Removing work clothing immediately after work and washing them as as possible
- Taking a hot shower after removing work clothing
- Thoroughly washing work gear while still at the fire station (do not take work gear home if possible)
- Always wearing safety equipment that can help prevent asbestos ingestion and inhalation
For additional information, refer to our article, Asbestos and Firefighters.
Additional Help and Resources for firefighters
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, or asbestosis, you may be eligible for substantial compensation. Fill out our form to receive our free Financial Compensation Packet. Our packet is loaded with information on leading mesothelioma attorneys in your area, how to file a claim for asbestos trust funds, how to get paid in 90 days, and more. For additional assistance, contact us at 800-793-4540.