Anyone who has known a firefighter knows they are special people. They thrive off the adrenaline rush of life or death situations. They run into situations that would cause most of his to flee. With steely courage, they seem invincible. Except they are not. In addition to the dangers posed by fire and potential collapsing structures, firefighters must also contend with toxic substances such as asbestos. Firefighters need to be aware; these materials can be deadly.
In 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) commissioned a study to evaluate the potential carcinogenic impact on firefighters. They study compared the cancer rate of firefighters to the U.S. population. The study examined the health histories of more than 30,000 firefighters from Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia who had worked between 1950 and 2009.
Firefighters Twice As Likely To Develop Malignant Mesothelioma
The study found a higher incidence of oral, respiratory, digestive and urinary cancers among firefighters. The cancer that really stood out however was mesothelioma. Firefighters developed malignant mesothelioma at nearly twice the rate of other firefighters.
Mesothelioma is a very aggressive form of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. Because of its fire resistant properties, asbestos was frequently used in many household materials including flooring tiles, pipe insulation, ceiling tiles, roofing shingles, popcorn ceilings and loose fill insulation.
The Environmental Protection Agency began regulating the use of asbestos in 70s, restricting the use of it in materials. In 1988, the EPA issued regulations requiring companies to disclose the use of asbestos in their products.
Firefighters are likely to have been exposed to asbestos while fighting fires. There was a direct correlation between cancer rates and the amount of time firefighters spent fighting fires.
Although this study does not mean that all firefighters will develop this type of cancer, it does mean that there is a need for greater protection of firefighters.