When we think of heroes in our lives, firefighters and first responders are often the first ones that come to mind. These brave men and women put their lives on the line every time they head out on a call. We assume that when they step into harm’s way, it will be fire, smoke or bullets that pose the greatest risk to their safety.
But a new study published last month and conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) revealed that asbestos and mesothelioma are a major health risk for firefighters.
Firefighter Asbestos Exposure: NIOSH Study
The NIOSH looked at mortality causes and rates among almost 30,000 firefighters employed between 1950 through 2009 in Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia. It has long been suspected that firefighter asbestos exposure is a greater risk because of the presence of the toxin in the dust and debris associated with fires in older structures.
When left intact, asbestos is not necessarily a danger, but when broken up during demolition or destruction by fire or other disaster, it can be inhaled and cause illness. The NIOSH found increased incidences of many types of cancers in the firefighter groups studied, but the increased rate of mesothelioma was the most profound. The five cancers that firefighters are more prone to include:
- Mesothelioma – firefighters are at 229% greater risk for this illness
- Esophageal cancer – 162% greater risk
- Renal (kidney) cancer – 127% greater risk
- Breast cancer – 126% greater risk
- Intestinal cancer – 121% greater risk
How Many Firefighters at Risk for Asbestos Exposure?
There are more than 1.1 million firefighters in the US – including both volunteer and career – that may be exposed to cancer causing agents (including asbestos) because of their life-saving work. We listed the top five cancers for increased risk above, but firefighters are also at greater risk for cancers of the brain, stomach, colon, rectum, prostate and testicles.
Prior studies also indicate risk for multiple myeloma (cancer of the plasma) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system). Of the large sample size in the NIOSH study, 15% of firefighters developed one of the forms of cancers studied. NIOSH concluded, “Our results provide evidence of a relation between ﬁreﬁghting and cancer. The new ﬁnding of excess malignant mesothelioma is noteworthy, given that asbestos exposure is a known hazard of ﬁreﬁghting.”
There is already enough of a cancer risk in our daily lives based on environmental, genetic and lifestyle exposures – adding asbestos into the mix puts firefighters at a statistically greater risk that is a poor reward for the risks they endure every day to protect the rest of us! You can read the full NIOSH study by clicking here.
Bergman Draper Oslund fights for the rights of mesothelioma victims every day. We have won more than $700 million for clients just like you. We’re ready to help you today. Call now for a free consultation.