Among the hazards firefighters regularly face in their dangerous occupation is asbestos exposure. The fires they battle produce a mixture of compounds firefighters inhale and touch that can result in cancers such as mesothelioma and bladder cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, created a Working Group to study the dangers firefighters face on the job. The Working Group met in June 2022 to examine the evidence for their IARC Monograph Volume 132: Occupational Exposure as a Firefighter, which will be published in 2023.
The summary of the IARC Monograph, which was released in June, stated: “Occupational exposure as a firefighter was classified as ‘carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 1) based on ‘sufficient’ evidence for cancer in humans.” The summary added: “On the basis of the available epidemiological evidence, the Working Group concluded that a causal association exists between occupational exposure as a firefighter and mesothelioma and bladder cancer.”
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring minerals that are durable and resistant to heat and corrosion. Asbestos has been mined and used commercially since the late 1800s and continues to be used in various industrial and household applications.
Where Is Asbestos Found?
Because of its usefulness, asbestos can be found in many areas of everyday life, such as garden supplies and vehicle brakes. The construction industry, in particular, has a wide range of uses for asbestos, including:
- roofing material
- ceiling and floor tiles
- sound absorption
- strengthening cement and plastics
What Are the Hazards of Exposure to Asbestos?
When asbestos is disturbed during a fire, for example, the minute fibers spread throughout the air. These fibers can get trapped in the lungs and cause damage that leads to difficulty breathing and even severe disease like mesothelioma. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the IARC have all classified asbestos as a “known human carcinogen.” Among the known diseases asbestos exposure can contribute to are:
- lung cancer
- cancer of the larynx
What Hazards Do Firefighters Face From Asbestos?
The IARC Working Group comprised 25 international experts from eight countries who examined scientific evidence to determine what occupational exposure to carcinogens means for firefighters. The Working Group looked at all occupational data for firefighters, including structural, wildland, and vehicular fires, and under various circumstances, such as collapsed buildings and hazardous material release.
Building components, personal protective equipment, and the firefighter’s role during an event can also affect exposure to unsafe materials. The effectiveness of personal protective equipment can be limited by factors such as design or fit.
The IARC Monograph summary pointed out: “Occupational exposure as a firefighter is complex and includes a variety of hazards resulting from fires and non-fire events.”
After inspecting seven studies “examining mesothelioma incidence among firefighters,” the Working Group “estimated a 58% higher risk” for mesothelioma among firefighters “compared with mostly general populations.” The Working Group concluded: “Asbestos exposure in firefighting is a plausible causal agent to support the observed associations.”
According to Wildfire Today, “asbestos exposure is generally rare among wildland firefighters, with the exception for wildland firefighters who commonly encounter built environments (especially buildings constructed before the 1970s), areas with contamination (e.g., Libby, MT) or naturally occurring asbestos. . . However, the highest concentrations measured were during tasks with greater plant and soil disturbance and where water was not used (e.g., fire line construction and dry mop-up).”
How We Help Victims of Asbestos Exposure
Seek justice with the help of our experienced asbestos attorneys. Our asbestos law firm has represented individuals like you affected by asbestos exposure for over 20 years, aggressively fighting the corporate giants responsible for their dangerous products. If you or a loved one were exposed to asbestos or suffer from a disease caused by asbestos like mesothelioma, we can help.