Firefighters regularly deal with serious asbestos exposure in their jobs. As a result, many firefighters death with a higher rate of asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma.
But when most people imagine what dangers firefighters face, they rarely think of asbestos exposure and the risk of mesothelioma and other cancers. Yet cancer is the top occupational cause of death for firefighters. (asbestos.com)
A Building Boom Meant Millions of Buildings With Asbestos Inside
During the 20th century in America, there was a massive building boom. During much of the century, materials containing asbestos were frequently used in homes and public buildings. Asbestos was used as insulation and fire protection for attics to basements. Most manufacturers stopped using asbestos as the link to cancer and other diseases became clear. But even if asbestos is now seldom used, it remains in millions of older buildings and homes across the US.
When a building burns, materials that contain asbestos can release high amounts of tiny, toxic asbestos fibers into the surrounding air. It is necessary for firefighters to use safety equipment always at the fire site. Their gear then needs to be properly contaminated. If not, firefighters risk exposure to asbestos. They also risk exposing their loved ones to the toxic mineral.
Many industry organizations offer training and resources for firefighters so they can learn how to prevent mesothelioma and lung cancer from their dangerous work. Also, firefighters who have suffered asbestos exposure and got cancer due to another party’s negligence have the option of filing a personal injury lawsuit or wrongful death lawsuit.
Firefighter Asbestos-Related Diseases
When asbestos-containing materials are disturbed in a fire, they release tiny asbestos fibers. These fibers are 100 times thinner than a human hair. The tiny fibers cannot be seen, tasted or smelled. They do not provide a chemical response in the body. So, there are no symptoms that occur right away when asbestos is swallowed or inhaled.
The problem is that asbestos fibers cannot be dissolved by the body. They become permanently stuck in the tissues and organs. This can cause serious illnesses, including cancer, many years later.
Some of the most common health conditions related to asbestos exposure are:
- Asbestosis: If asbestos collects in the lungs, scar tissue may form as the immune system tries to push the fibers out. The buildup of scar tissue makes the lungs stiffer, so it is harder to breathe.
- Mesothelioma: A rare, aggressive cancer that affects the pleural lining surrounding the lungs, as well as the abdomen, heart and wall of the chest. A cancer with a poor long-term prognosis, as it is usually not diagnosed until the late stages.
- Lung cancer: Usually is caused by smoking, but every year, some cases also are related to asbestos exposure.
- Pleural plaques and thickening: Asbestos fibers can get into the lining around the lungs. Irritation from asbestos fibers can cause scarring and hard plaques in the pleural lining. This makes it very difficult to breathe.
Study Shows Firefighters Face Serious Asbestos Health Risks
In 2013, OSHA conducted a study into the medical past of 30,000 firefighters in America. Compared to non-firefighters in America, it was found firefighters face double the risk of getting mesothelioma. The OSHA study found that firefighters have a higher risk of other cancers because of other toxic chemicals and contaminants that are released as the building burns. But the high rate of mesothelioma indicates just how high the risk of cancer is from the asbestos exposure firefighters deal with.
Firefighters Have a Higher Risk of Asbestos Exposure
From the early 20th century into the 1970s, various manufacturers in the United States put asbestos into many building materials. Asbestos made most of these materials more durable, heat resistant and better insulated at a very low price. Some of the common materials in buildings that may contain asbestos are:
- Cement floors, sheets and siding
- Roof shingles
- Tile, flooring and wallpaper
- Attic, duct and pipe insulation
- Spray-on coating used for fireproofing
- Insulation for furnaces, boilers and appliances
- Flooring adhesives
In most cases, these asbestos-containing materials are of two types: friable materials that can easily release asbestos fibers (old pipe insulation) and nonfriable materials, such as floor tiles that keep the asbestos contained. However, in a fire, all materials containing asbestos are basically friable.
This is what makes firefighters different from other employees who work in other trades. Most asbestos exposure risk in other jobs happens in small amounts over the years. But for a firefighter, major exposure to asbestos can come from a single fire or encounter with debris and smoke.
Asbestos Exposure on 9/11
When the World Trade Center towers fell on 9/11, a massive cloud of dust and debris was released. It contained heavy metal particles, burning plastic and many tons of asbestos fibers. In the months that followed, thousands of firefighters across America joined the New York Fire Department in going through the toxic rubble. Many did not have respiratory protection.
This is why many first responders at the WTC disaster site have higher rates of lung diseases and many types of cancer. It is expected the death toll will climb in the years to come because many cancers, such as mesothelioma, do not develop for at least 20 years after exposure.
The dangerous exposure to asbestos in the wake of the 9/11 attacks shows how important it is for firefighters to wear personal protective equipment whenever they are at a disaster site.
Compensation for Affected Firefighters with Cancer
There is a strong link between firefighting and various forms of cancer. The US and state governments are beginning to catch up as they offer workers’ compensation, medical benefits and death benefits. Coverage can vary by state.
Fire departments have a responsibility to protect their workers from asbestos. If you have been exposed to asbestos and you have cancer, it is worthwhile to speak to a personal injury attorney. At the least, you could be eligible for workers’ compensation mesothelioma benefits. It also is possible to file a third party lawsuit against companies that produced the asbestos products that led to your cancer diagnosis.
Asbestos and Mesothelioma Attorneys for Firefighters
Below are some of the best asbestos cancer attorneys that specialize in the firefighting industry:
Brayton & Purcell LLP
680 South Santa Fe Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90021
The attorneys at Brayton & Purcell have worked for years representing firefighters and construction workers with mesothelioma. In several cases, they have represented several insulators and related workers who spent years working with asbestos insulation. These workers are at a much higher risk of developing mesothelioma. The attorneys at this firm have a strong track record in winning substantial settlements and verdicts for their clients.
The Carlson Law Firm
1717 N. I-35 Suite 305
Round Rock TX 78664
This Texas law firm is experienced in standing up for construction workers who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestosis. They are experienced in representing firefighters with mesothelioma. It was common in Texas in the 1960s and 1970s to work close to asbestos. These attorneys take pride in representing clients whose health has been severely damaged due to the negligence of companies in the construction trades.
JSG Glassman LLC
1 International Place, 18th Floor
Boston MA 02110
The dedicated attorneys at this Boston law firm have won many large awards for mesothelioma victims in the construction trades. Through vigorous research, they proved that the companies were aware of products that were laced with asbestos and did nothing to protect workers.
- Firefighters and Asbestos Exposure. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.asbestos.com/occupations/firefighters/
- Does Mesothelioma Cancer Cause a Cough? (2019). Retrieved from https://www.mesolawsuitafterdeath.com/mesothelioma/does-mesothelioma-cancer-cause-a-cough/