Firefighters and Asbestos Exposure
Firefighters often find themselves in precarious situations where their immediate health is in clear danger. However, there is another risk that may affect firefighters’ health long term, without them even being aware. Firefighters are at high risk of developing mesothelioma due to the asbestos containing materials that have been used either in the initial construction of buildings, or during renovation work at a later date. There are many situations during fires and emergencies where firefighters can be inadvertently exposed to asbestos which has been proven to cause mesothelioma.
“Special studies, such as those carried out by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety indicate that firefighters are twice as likely to potentially develop mesothelioma when compared to the average person.”
The Use Of Asbestos In Buildings
Asbestos was used in large quantities in construction work especially from the 1950s into the 1970s. It was commonly used around pipes, in ceiling tiles, and walls in order to add some extra insulation. It was popular because it could withstand high temperatures. It was quickly discovered that asbestos could protect against fire, heat, cold, noise, and even corrosion. It was also available in sheets of varying thickness as well as in a finer roll, which was really used for insulation of pipes or loft spaces. A large percentage of buildings from those few decades will indeed have asbestos in some part of the building and this can, in turn, lead to potential health problems. Thankfully, buildings that have been constructed after the 1980s are less likely to contain as much asbestos. This does mean that the exposure risk is lower although there is still the chance of some parts of the building containing it in small amounts. The same types of precautions should always be taken by firefighters to limit the risk as much as possible.
Asbestos And Your Health
The problem with asbestos and how it can impact upon your health is that the effects might not be seen for decades. The problem comes from the way in which the fibers contained within the asbestos can hang in the air, which you then inhale. You will be unaware of inhaling them as there is no odor or taste. Inhaling the fibers has been scientifically shown to increase your risk of developing cancers, especially lung cancer and mesothelioma, which is a cancer that specifically targets that thin lining that surrounds not only the lungs, but other organs as well.
It is important to point out that exposure to asbestos does not only potentially lead to developing cancer, but an individual can also develop a build up of scar tissue in the lungs which then has an impact on the ability to breathe. This particular health condition is known as asbestosis and it can be a life-threatening condition.
The Risk To Firefighters
Firefighters are at high risk for being exposed to asbestos. The problem for firefighters is that they will encounter asbestos after it has been exposed and damaged in some way. This damage will result in those fibers being thrown into the air. It is well known that these fibers can remain in the air for a considerable length of time before settling as dust. Even then, the dust can be disturbed leading to them being thrown into the air once again. If a firefighter inhales this dust, it increases their chances of developing mesothelioma.
During an emergency situation, it is quite common for a firefighter to be in an area where the air quality is relatively poor. This air is also often full of toxins and asbestos is just one of a list that can be dangerous to health.
“A firefighter can often carry the dangerous fibers out on their clothing as well. This means that it is possible for them to inadvertently expose others to it, even if they have been in a building with the appropriate breathing apparatus.”
What are the chances of developing an asbestos related health problem?
Special studies, such as those carried out by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety indicate that firefighters are twice as likely to potentially develop mesothelioma when compared to the average person. This is certainly a terrifying statistic especially considering the safety precautions taken by the emergency services. Sadly, this statistic may even have to be altered in future due to an increased awareness of the problems associated with asbestos and a better success rate of attributing illnesses directly to it.
There is, therefore, an increased asbestos risk for firefighters thanks to their line of work and the danger that they put themselves in. This increased exposure risk may not affect heir health immediately, but it may be a different story in the decades that follow. Further studies may help to highlight the link between incidences of diseases such as mesothelioma among firefighters and allow steps to be taken to reduce the risk for firefighters both now and in the future.