Firefighters and Exposure to Asbestos

Career Firefighters Face a Heightened Risk of Asbestos Exposure 

When most people think of the risks of firefighting, they don’t imagine asbestos exposure. However, cancer—including mesothelioma, a rare and fatal form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers—is the leading cause of occupational death in career firefighters. 

Studies show that firefighters are more than two times more likely to develop mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure than the general population. This is because they are frequently exposed to asbestos dust and other toxic substances that are released when older buildings burn. When asbestos dust, which comprises microscopic asbestos fibers, is inhaled or ingested, it can lead to inflammation, cell death, and DNA damage. This, in turn, can cause cancer and other harmful health conditions. 

How Are Firefighters Exposed to Asbestos? 

Throughout the 1900s until the early 1980s, asbestos was commonly used in a wide variety of building materials, from insulation to roofing to siding, pipes, electrical panels, and even fireproofing. These materials were used in both residential and commercial buildings, as well as public facilities. Although asbestos has been mostly phased out in the construction of new buildings, it remains in millions of older homes and commercial and public buildings throughout the United States. When older buildings burn, these asbestos-containing materials release asbestos fibers into the air.

Firefighters are issued personal protective gear to help protect them from asbestos dust and other toxic materials that can be released from burning buildings. 

Personal protective gear may include:

  • Firefighting suits 
  • Gloves 
  • Boots 
  • Fire blankets 
  • Helmets 

This gear must not only be properly issued and worn but also cleaned and decontaminated to prevent firefighters from being exposed to asbestos and other harmful substances. When firefighters are not issued the proper safety gear, when they do not wear it properly, if it is defective, or if it is not properly cleaned and decontaminated, they can be exposed and may suffer the consequences of such exposure. 

What Types of Building Materials Contain Asbestos? 

During most of the 20th Century, asbestos was used in all types of building materials thanks to its naturally occurring heat-resistant and corrosion-resistant properties. 

As such, it is commonly found in the following types of materials: 

  • Flooring 
  • Siding 
  • Roofing 
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Floor tiles 
  • Shingles 
  • Roof sealants 
  • Vinyl tiles 
  • Wallpaper 
  • Cement 
  • Spray-on coatings
  • Pipes
  • Air ducts 
  • Insulation 
  • Electrical panels
  • Wires 
  • HVAC units 
  • Adhesives
  • Wall panels 

This is not a complete list; asbestos can be found in nearly all types of building materials manufactured from the turn of the 20th Century until the 1980s. Today, these materials remain in older, unrenovated homes, apartments, offices, stores, and other residential, commercial, and public buildings. 

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What Makes Occupational Asbestos Exposure Different for Firefighters?

Asbestos-containing materials are generally classified into the following two categories:

  • Friable: Friable materials are those that can easily release asbestos fibers into the air, such as old insulation used around pipes or acoustic ceilings. 
  • Nonfriable: Also known as “bonded” materials, nonfriable materials do not release asbestos fibers unless significantly disturbed. Examples include tiles or cement. 

In most cases, occupational exposure occurs slowly over a long period of time due to prolonged exposure to friable asbestos materials. However, when a structure burns, all of its materials—whether they are friable or nonfriable—can release asbestos. In this way, firefighters face a unique risk of substantial asbestos exposure during a single event. 

Firefighters may face numerous, large-scale asbestos exposure events during the course of their careers. They can also be exposed just a few times to asbestos dust and asbestos-contaminated debris or smoke. Because the level of exposure is so high in these situations, firefighters can still suffer various asbestos-related health concerns, such as cancer and pulmonary disease, even if they do not experience prolonged occupational asbestos exposure every day on the job, as many other types of workers do.

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Filing a Firefighter Occupational Asbestos Exposure Claim

Asbestos manufacturers, including those who created and sold asbestos-containing building materials and products, have set aside large trusts for the sole purpose of paying asbestos exposure and mesothelioma claims. Although this money is available to victims and their families, filing a claim can be difficult without the assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced attorney.

At SWMW Law, we help firefighters, former firefighters, and the families of those who have passed away due to mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses fight for the justice they deserve. We can help you establish the critical elements of your case, including proving you or your loved one was diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease after being exposed to the toxic substance. We can also assist you in establishing the nature and severity of your damages, including your medical expenses, funeral/burial costs, lost income, lost support, lost earning ability, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and more. 

Our goal is to help you recover the maximum compensation you are owed. Our attorneys are proud to stand up for the rights of everyday heroes who put their lives on the line to protect others. We strive to be a voice for the voiceless and provide a high level of personal attention throughout the legal process.

We have recovered more than $500 million for our clients. Learn how our team can help you with your case during a free consultation—call (855) 744-1922 or contact us online to get started.

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