Each year, the first week of April is recognized as Global Asbestos Awareness Week (GAAW). This is a week dedicated to spreading awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure and the health complications associated with it. While firefighters are already putting their lives on the line saving others, they may also be facing other dangers, such as asbestos. With proper knowledge and safety measures in place, firefighters can reduce their chances of exposure, and overall, lead healthy lives despite the risks related to their courageous line of work.
The Dangers of Asbestos
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was widely used from the 1920s to 1980s. Due to its unique qualities of fire resistance and sound absorption, it was incorporated into a variety of different building materials. Insulation, flooring tiles, roofing shingles and permaboard are just a few of the notable materials that utilized asbestos. While usage of asbestos has decreased, it is still not fully banned in the United States, unlike Canada and Australia that have banned all uses.
When asbestos is damaged, tiny needle-like fibers are released into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested. These fibers enter the body and cling to the lining of internal organs, such as the lungs, heart and stomach. Over the course of 10 to 50 years, scarring and tissue damage occurs, resulting in tumors to develop. This latency period is associated with an often fatal form of cancer known as mesothelioma.
Exposure to Asbestos While Working
When firefighting, those on the job have two main goals: evacuating the structure and stopping the fire. Unfortunately, during this process, there is the potential to be exposed to asbestos. As previously mentioned, asbestos was incorporated into building materials because of its ability to slow the progression of a fire. However, during a fire, asbestos-containing materials in a building or home can deteriorate, releasing fibers into the air. While firefighters are well-equipped with protective gear and respirators, these fibers can latch onto clothing, which can be brought back to the station or home. It is important for firefighters to be cognizant of the age of the structure they’re running into and act accordingly when dealing with dust and debris that may contain asbestos.
Some safety measures firefighters can take both during and after the job are:
- Using a hose to clean off debris and a brush to wipe away contaminants.
- Wearing gloves and safety glasses to prevent direct exposure.
- Gently scrubbing gloves and boots with a soft-bristled brush.
- Retiring any equipment that has been damaged or irreparable.
Firefighters are one of the most at-risk occupations to developing asbestos-related diseases. In 2015, results were published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that examined cancer rates among a focus group of nearly 30,000 firefighters. Based on U.S. cancer rates, the study found that there were roughly twice as many firefighters diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma than the national average. With the risk being this high, precautions must be taken in order to minimize the danger. Firefighters should be aware of the common symptoms of mesothelioma which are as follows: coughing, chest pain, difficulty breathing and unexplained weight loss. If you begin experiencing any of these symptoms, be sure to consult your doctor immediately.
Keeping Others Informed
This GAAW, help spread awareness by informing others about the consequences of asbestos exposure. If you have loved ones that are firefighters, you should not only thank them for what they do, but ensure they are aware of asbestos. Mesothelioma is one of the only non-genetic cancers in existence and can be a disease of the past if we continue to educate about asbestos.
For more information please visit: www.mesothelioma.com