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Mesothelioma and The Risk to Firefighters

Everyone has seen iconic photographs of tired firefighters in the middle of a disaster with smoke-stained, sweat-streaked faces. Sometimes they’re in the middle of a forest, seemingly surrounded by flames, fighting wildfires, such as those in Oregon, Washington, and California. Or who could ever forget the images of first responders, covered in ash, rescuing survivors in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. In other photographs and videos, we see firefighters responding to burning homes and carrying small children down ladders to safety.

Whatever the circumstances, it seems that these professionals are often the first to arrive and the last to leave. And make no mistake – firefighters bravely enter their profession understanding that their service exposes them to extreme dangers from fire, smoke, heat, motor vehicle accidents, and collapsing buildings. But what about illness and death related to cancer and asbestos exposure? Most would agree that society should hold those responsible who irresponsibly create such a danger. In this article, we will take a look at the firefighting profession, and the dangers presented by the exposure to asbestos.

Firefighter Statistics

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in 2015 there were approximately 1,160,450 firefighters in the United States. Of these, 345,600 represented career firefighters, while the remainder were volunteers. Seventy-one percent (71%) of the career firefighters worked in communities with a population of 25,000 or more, while 95% of the volunteers worked in communities with fewer than 25,000 people. The United States had approximately 29,727 fire departments. As of November 2017, Oregon had 313 fire departments. For purposes of comparison, Hawaii had four fire departments and Pennsylvania had 2,207.

Greatest Dangers to Firefighters

Notwithstanding the tremendous dangers firefighters face while fighting a fire, you may be surprised by the profession’s greatest killer. According to the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), between 2002 and 2016, sixty-one percent (61%) of deaths in the line-of-duty were caused by occupational cancer. Citing three different studies, the NFPA Journal reported that firefighters have a higher rate of certain cancers than the general population. Two of the studies found that firefighters have significantly increased risk for developing the following cancers:

  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung
  • Colon
  • Melanoma
  • Prostate
  • Stomach
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Rectal
  • Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer
  • Multiple Myeloma

Research has also been undertaken related specifically to mesothelioma. In 2013, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported on 29,993 firefighters studied in San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The study was a collaborative effort between NIOSH, the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of California – Davis, and the National Cancer Institute. Researchers determined that firefighters developed mesothelioma at a rate two times greater than the general population. Researchers felt it likely that the mesothelioma was caused by exposure to asbestos.

Risk of Exposure to Asbestos

There have definitely been improvements in reducing the amount of exposure to asbestos by firefighters. However, it has not been eliminated. There are two problems. First, many homes and buildings were built before any limitations on the use of asbestos existed. Therefore, asbestos can exist in ceiling tiles, drywall, insulation, and lots of other construction products that still exist in older homes and buildings. Thus, when firefighters fight fires at these homes, asbestos can literally rain down all around them. Second, it can take years before the effects of exposure to asbestos result in full-blown mesothelioma. Thus, years of past exposure can cause present problems.

Call with Questions

In our opinion, firefighters are true American heroes. If you’ve been harmed by improper exposure to asbestos, society demands that wrongdoers be held accountable. If you need help understanding, investigating, or pursuing your rights, our experienced mesothelioma lawyers can help. Please call us with any questions.