Firefighters More at Risk of Mesothelioma from Asbestos Exposure

While it has been known for some time that asbestos exposure is a risk for firefighters, only more recently has research started to quantify and qualify the increased chance that firefighters may develop mesothelioma as a result. Buildings throughout the country often contain building compounds and materials with asbestos components.

When fire and heat weaken, break, crumble and burn the contaminated building materials, microscopic asbestos fibers can be released into the air, putting firefighters in danger of inhaling them and developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

NIOSH Findings

Researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency that is part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, reviewed in 2013 more than 50 years of data from almost 30,000 firefighters in San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia in an effort to better understand their occupational risk of various cancers.

A major new finding of this study was that firefighters face double the risk of developing mesothelioma than do members of the general population.

More about Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare, asbestos-caused cancer of the linings around major internal organs, especially of the lungs, but also of the heart, abdomen or testicles. Mesothelioma is almost always fatal within a short period of time after symptoms develop. The cancer often strikes retired individuals because it can take decades to develop after asbestos exposure.

The disease causes horrible symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, lumps under the skin on the chest, weight loss and painful coughing.

In the study, the average length of time between the date firefighters began working in the field and the date of mesothelioma diagnoses was 45 years. More than 88 percent of these mesothelioma diagnoses were of pleural mesothelioma, meaning of the pleura or lining that surrounds the lungs.

More Research Planned

According to Fire Chief, a journal for firefighting professionals, there are logical next steps for research into cancer risks for firefighters on the job. The article reports that data to date may actually understate actual risks because firefighters tend to be relatively healthy people to start with and because it may not adequately take into account the experiences of volunteer firefighters and retirees.

One future research focus that may be relevant to asbestos exposure in particular is a look at carcinogens like asbestos that cling to firefighters’ gear, called PPE or Personal Protective Equipment. Historically, asbestos has been known to cling to clothing after occupational exposure. Researchers reportedly will look at several issues such as gear cleaning processes; exposure to chemicals despite wearing PPE; and prevention efforts like keeping contaminated gear from entering the inside cabs of vehicles.

Seek Legal Counsel

In the meantime, a firefighter who develops mesothelioma may be eligible for workers’ compensation or other legal remedies like a personal injury lawsuit, depending on the circumstances. Seek out the advice of an experienced asbestos attorney to understand the options. The survivors of a firefighter who has died because of mesothelioma should also speak to a lawyer about the possibility of a wrongful death suit.