Firefighters have one of the toughest occupations in the world. Most people understand the risks that firefighters take when they enter smoke and fire-filled buildings and/or when they work long hours trying to get an explosion under control. However, asbestos exposure also places firefighters in extreme danger, and happens more often than most people may realize.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), buildings, homes, and structures built prior to the 1980s may contain asbestos, as it was a popular choice in many construction materials due to its heat and fire-resistance.
Unfortunately, however, these buildings can still catch fire even when littered with a mineral that was once used to stop high heat and fires. Many of these buildings and homes are still around today, and when firefighters are dispatched to help put out flames or break down the walls, they are risk of inhaling exorbitant amounts of asbestos fibers.
To make matters worse, when asbestos fibers are friable, meaning when they are crumbled by fire or any other combustion, they become airborne and can permeate throughout the vicinity. These fibers can be found in a variety of areas in an old building, structure, or home, including:
- Attic insulation
- Duct adhesives
Some of the safety gear used to protect firefighters may also contain asbestos. Fortunately, most fire departments have removed most safety gear and products that was once created with asbestos, but the CDC suggests that there are still a myriad of older helmets that firefighters still use that contain asbestos, although the chances of exposure is rare.
In some instances, firefighters are directly exposed to asbestos via training buildings and facilities. For instance, in 2011, several firefighters in Everett, Washington, along with their spouses, filed a $9 million asbestos lawsuit after they were required to undergo training exercises in homes that were riddled with asbestos.
The lawsuit was eventually settled, and the firefighters now receive free, lifetime medical monitoring and examinations.
How Can Firefighters Protect Themselves from Asbestos Exposure?
Although some some safety gear may still contain asbestos, most new gear, including breathing masks, eye protection, and gloves should be worn at all times. Of course, asbestos may still become lodged into clothing, jackets, and safety gear. Consequently, the National Fire Protection Association suggests that firefighters should always:
- Wash work clothing in a separate washer that’s specifically made for clothing and gear that may be contaminated with asbestos
- Vacuum all gear and any items that may have come into contact with asbestos with a high-efficiency vacuum cleaner
- Rinse clothing more than once on the washer’s “rinse cycle”
- Wear a face mask, respirators, and protective gear while cleaning and washing
- All gear should be left in the same storage space
- Shower thoroughly before returning home
Risk Statistics For Firefighters
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), firefighters are at a 2.29 times higher risk of developing malignant mesothelioma when compared to non-firefighters. In addition, firefighters are more likely to develop esophageal, intestinal, and breast cancer.
Along with asbestos exposure, firefighters are also at risk of ingesting and inhaling dangerous by-products such as benzene and formaldehyde.
NIOSH, along with the National Fire Protection Association performed a study on the health of over 30,000 firefighters in major cities in the United States, both current and retired. The results show that close to half of the firefighters were showing abnormal chest x-rays, which is generally indicative of an asbestos-related diseases.
Getting Legal Help for Firefighters
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness, such as mesothelioma cancer, contact our experienced mesothelioma law firm for a free, no-obligation case consultation. For additional details on asbestos illnesses, including treatment options, symptoms, and much more, we invite you to fill out our contact form for a free Mesothelioma and Asbestos Guide.