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Firefighters: What’s the risk of asbestos exposure?

On Behalf of | Dec 8, 2020 | Mesothelioma, Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Firefighters work in one of the most dangerous fields. They know they face serious risks on the job, but cancer is often the last thing they worry about, especially when faced with a burning building.

Even so, a cancer diagnosis is a likely reality for many firefighters, especially after they retire. And recent research indicates that mesothelioma is one of the most common cancer risks firefighters should not overlook.

Firefighters more likely to suffer from mesothelioma

Over the years, firefighters faced a higher risk of occupational cancers than many other professions. And according to a 2013 study, the risk of developing mesothelioma is especially high. Firefighters across the country are 2.29 times more likely to develop mesothelioma than workers in any other industry.

As many firefighters would expect, the most common risk of asbestos exposure they faced was when they answered calls to extinguish fires. This is because:

  • Burning and collapsing buildings disturb the asbestos and release the particles into the air
  • Older buildings are more likely to have asbestos in their insulation
  • Cleaning up after a fire involves a high risk of disturbing asbestos particles even further

This risk can still affect firefighters on the job today, especially when they handle calls of older buildings on fire.

Fires are not the only risks

It is important to note that burned structures are not the only risk that firefighters faced on the job. Minnesota firefighters also endured a high risk of asbestos exposure from:

  • The workplace: Just like any other buildings, fire departments likely had asbestos used in their insulation until the 1970s or 1980s. And many fire stations across Minnesota were built long before then.
  • Their gear: Workers and firefighters use personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves. However, asbestos was a common element in firefighters’ PPE in past decades. After all, asbestos has many fire-resistant properties. That is one of the reasons for its widespread usage. Asbestos was especially common in firefighter’s clothing, and the normal wear and tear of their clothing often released the fibers into the air.

Minnesota lawmakers have made efforts to ease firefighters’ access to compensation. However, retired firefighters should understand the extent of the risk they faced in the past. And they must know that they have the right to seek compensation if they suffer a mesothelioma diagnosis related to their past work.


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