Fire Isn’t the Only Risk for Firefighters
Firefighters are used to putting themselves in harm’s way. Aside from the obvious risk of getting burned, they are also exposed to environments with poor air quality. Burning buildings set off numerous types of toxins which fill the air with poison, including asbestos. It is found in the insulation, roofing, and other building materials of older homes and buildings and is the leading cause of occupational cancer.
Asbestos exposure causes a number of diseases, the most serious being mesothelioma which is a cancer that affects the lining of the organs including the lungs, heart and abdomen. Asbestos is a mineral that occurs naturally in the environment and in the 20th century it was mined and widely used by manufacturers and construction companies.
Its value derived from its fireproofing capabilities and was used in many building materials such as:
- Vinyl Floors
- Popcorn Ceilings
- Caulking and many more
Firefighters are twice more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general public. They come into contact with the mineral when it is released into the air from a collapsing or burning building. Most of the homes built prior to 1980 contain asbestos.
First responders are at greatest risk. The 9/11 attacks required help from hundreds of emergency rescue workers who were exposed to over 400 tons of asbestos released into the air from the collapsing buildings.
Reducing the Risk for FIrefighters
Since firefighters are at an increased risk of asbestos exposure, it is critical that they be aware of environments with increased potential for exposure. It is also important to know what to do once exposure has occurred. Here are a few tips to help firefighters protect themselves:
- When exposed, wash equipment and clothing at the scene to avoid spreading the asbestos.
- Wet down the area in which the crew will be working to help prevent asbestos from releasing into the air.
- Wear a SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) to protect against toxic substances including asbestos.
- Wear the SCBA until leaving the scene. Asbestos particles remain in the air even after a fire is under control.
- Allow trained professionals to decontaminate areas that may contain asbestos.
- Finally, any firefighter that smokes should stop. Use of tobacco weakens the lungs and will enhance the effect of asbestos.
Get Screened For Mesothelioma Annually
It can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years for the symptoms of mesothelioma to appear. In part, this is why it is so difficult to diagnose mesothelioma. It takes years after being exposed for mesothelioma cells to start mutating. However, firefighters who have been exposed to asbestos should not wait. It is important to find a specialist and be tested.
Common Warning Signs & Symptoms of Mesothelioma
There are three varieties of mesothelioma that are most common and each of these exhibit similar warning signs. The mesothelioma symptoms many not be noticeable until many years after the firefighter has been exposed and include pain and difficulty breathing, hoarseness, coughing up blood, difficulty swallowing, and/or pain in the lower back or on the side of the chest.
Firefighting is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Approximately 35 million homes in the U.S. contain this dangerous mineral and firefighters may be repeatedly exposed. It is important to follow the safety guidelines regarding asbestos exposure in order to reduce the risk of developing mesothelioma.