Firefighters and the Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Firefighters, policemen, emergency medical service workers and all other public servants put their lives at risk each day to protect and serve their local residents. For firefighters, certain risks and hazards exist that are often unknown, unseen and unexpected. One such risk is asbestos exposure.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring yet hazardous mineral that is found in thousands of industrial materials and products used in homes, buildings and consumer items. When asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, asbestos fibers become airborne and are easily inhaled because they are microscopic.
Exposure to this material has been linked to respiratory diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer, often taking years to develop. Those who work around asbestos for many years are most at risk of developing a related disease. As a result of the duties associated with their work, firefighters are put at a higher risk of interacting with asbestos. Surprisingly, an exposure risk has even included their protective gear.
How and Where Exposure Occurs
The most intense moments of a firefighter's job involves eliminating fires and rescuing those in danger. When fires occur within homes, buildings and other structures, asbestos-containing materials can get damaged, increasing the likelihood that the fibers will be released.
The following is a list of household products could contain asbestos, endangering firefighters in the event of a fire:
- Roofing materials
- Vinyl flooring
- Wall lining/gaskets
- Piping material
- Wiring insulation
- Recessed lighting
- Attic insulation
The same threats from homes are applied to commercial buildings. One of the more well-known instances of asbestos exposure involving firefighters is the rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Dust from the destroyed buildings contained asbestos and other hazardous substances. Respiratory issues among public servants continue to linger as a result, including cases of mesothelioma.
Unfortunately for firefighters, the risk of asbestos exposure isn’t just limited to the location of the fire. In some cases, the risk follows them around. Fire equipment contained asbestos in earlier decades because of the material's heat-resistant characteristics. Equipment items included gloves, helmets and coats, all of which are considered staples of the firefighter uniform. Some of these items are still produced with asbestos, so be sure to ask your employer for information on the contents of your protective gear and how to keep the gear in good condition.
Firefighters, in addition to all first-responders, are encouraged to always wear protective gear during any hazardous environment. This should begin with ensuring that safety equipment is free of asbestos. Researching the materials and the manufacturer can help verify the status of the equipment.
Finally, it is highly recommended that all public servants conduct regular health checkups and screening for respiratory disease. Receiving X-Rays and communicating your occupational dangers can help your doctor detect the development of life-changing diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Bio: Mark Hall is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. Between his interests in environmental health and his writing experience, Mark is committed to communicating relevant news and information regarding the dangers of asbestos exposure and breakthroughs in mesothelioma treatments.