Bravery, commitment and resilience – these words often come to mind when thinking about firefighters. These heroes face intense heat, blinding smoke and life-threatening situations regularly.
However, aside from the evident dangers of their job, there is a silent threat lurking in the background: the risk of developing mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. With firefighters frequently exposed to old buildings and materials, the question arises: Are they at a higher risk for this rare but deadly disease?
Asbestos in older structures
Firefighters often work in older buildings, many of which have materials containing asbestos. When a fire burns through such structures, asbestos fibers can become airborne. Inhaling these fibers poses a serious health risk. Over time, repeated exposure can lead to mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen.
Challenges with protective gear
While modern firefighting gear offers protection against many dangers, it does not completely eliminate the risk of asbestos exposure. Despite advancements in technology, no equipment can guarantee 100% prevention against inhaling dangerous particles present in smoke and debris.
Duration of exposure
While a single exposure might not be enough to cause mesothelioma, firefighters have careers that span decades. Over this time, the chances of coming into contact with asbestos-containing materials multiple times are quite high. This prolonged exposure increases the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.
Symptoms often appear late
A significant challenge with mesothelioma is that symptoms can take decades to appear after the initial asbestos exposure. By the time firefighters exhibit signs like chest pain, difficulty breathing or persistent coughing, they might have retired from active duty. This delay makes it challenging to establish a direct connection between their profession and the disease.
Unfortunately, doctors diagnose approximately 3,300 firefighters with mesothelioma each year.
If you are a firefighter or know someone who is, understanding these risks can lead to more informed decisions. Opting for regular health check-ups and screenings can aid in early detection. Additionally, staying updated with the latest protective gear and technologies can further reduce the risks associated with the profession.