Asbestos in Firefighters and How it Increases the Risk of Mesothelioma

I was recently contacted by the Mesothelioma Center at about featuring an article geared towards firefighters about asbestos and the risks of mesothelioma. They just completed this short write up for my blog, and I recommend that you take a look at some of the information in the article. Feel free to share it and raise awareness with this topic.

Firefighters’ daily responsibilities expose them to a number of occupational threats. Some of these – like fire and falling debris – are evident, while others – like asbestos – are less obvious.

Because asbestos does not cause immediate bodily harm, many firefighters view it as a less imminent danger. However, the toxic effects – which typically appear 20 to 50 years after exposure – are just as severe and life-threatening as the other hazards in the field.

Asbestos causes a number of different diseases, including lung cancer, asbestosis, and several types of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is the signature asbestos-related cancer. It most commonly develops in the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), but it can also develop in the lining of the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma) or heart (pericardial mesothelioma).

Pleural mesothelioma produces respiratory symptoms such as coughing and difficulty breathing. It also causes a dull, aching chest pain that intensifies as the disease progresses.

Asbestos exposure is the leading cause of mesothelioma cancer. A person’s mesothelioma risk increases with their level of exposure; those who were exposed to the fibers on a daily or near-daily basis for several years have the highest risk.

Unfortunately, firefighting has the potential to cause this risky high-level exposure.

The Most Common Asbestos Exposure Hazards in Firefighting

Asbestos exposure threats most commonly occur when firefighters respond to a call at older building.

Until the 1980s, public and private structures were often constructed with asbestos products. From insulation and pipes to shingles and tiles, thousands of building products were laced with the fibers.

Ironically, the fibers were used to add a fireproofing element to the items.

When these older buildings catch on fire, the asbestos-containing products may crack, crumble or otherwise decay so that the individual fibers are released into the air. Firefighters may create additional threats by breaking through walls or tearing down other structures to make sure all the flames are extinguished.

Inhaled or ingested fibers can easily get trapped in the body, where they can cause internal damage (including cancerous changes) over a period of several decades. However, several basic safety precautions can help firefighters reduce their risk of illness.

How Firefighters can Reduce their Risk of Developing an Asbestos-Related Disease

Adequate safety gear is the first – and best – line of defense against asbestos exposure. Firefighters should wear full-face respirators (with HEPA filters) at every fireground; they should also wear protective coverings on their head and hands.

Firefighters should clean their gear in designated spaces at the workplace. They should wash all clothing in specially labeled machines for at least two cycles, and they should consider wearing appropriate facial protection during the process. They should always leave their work gear at the worksite and shower before returning to their home.

Firefighters can also register for routine health screenings. These screenings (offered by many fire departments and local hospitals) can identify potential illness in its earliest stages. Firefighters should also alert their doctors to their exposure history so they can correctly identify any future symptoms that may develop.

Author bio: Faith Franz has spent nearly two years researching and writing for The Mesothelioma Center. As an advocate for alternative medicine, she encourages patients to explore all of the treatment options that could potentially save their life.