When firefighters are called to put out fires in older buildings, they could be exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a dangerous cancer-causing group of minerals that is present in many older homes, commercial buildings and structures. Firefighters could be at risk of developing mesothelioma and other serious diseases due to occupational exposure to asbestos at job sites.
At Bailey & Glasser, LLP, our asbestos attorneys fight for the rights of firefighters who are diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases. We can help you determine your legal rights and move forward with a claim as an injured firefighter. Contact our team of attorneys to learn more during a free case evaluation.
What Is Asbestos? What Are its Health Risks?
Asbestos is a group of six silicate minerals that naturally occur in dirt and rock. Asbestos was heavily mined and used as an ingredient in various consumer products and goods – including building materials – until it was connected to health problems in those who were exposed to it. In 1987, the International Agency for Research on Cancer confirmed asbestos as a carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer in humans.
Although the National Cancer Institute states that no amount of asbestos is “safe” for human exposure, studies show that people who are exposed to it consistently or frequently are at a higher risk of developing related health problems than others, including mesothelioma. This is an aggressive form of cancer with no known cure. Workers such as firefighters, who may be exposed to asbestos regularly, have higher odds of developing these illnesses.
Besides mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos could result in asbestosis, a chronic lung condition that is also known as diffuse pulmonary fibrosis. Asbestos can cause illnesses when the particles become lodged inside a victim’s body. Over time, these particles can cause enough tissue irritation and scarring to change the DNA in a victim’s cells, resulting in cancer and other illnesses. The latency period, or the amount of time between exposure to asbestos and a related health problem, is an average of 20-60+ years.
Asbestos began to be regulated in the United States in the 1980s, after the Environmental Protection Agency was established and published its Final Rule on asbestos. Unfortunately, federal asbestos regulations came too late to protect millions of Americans from being exposed to this mineral. Asbestos was already used in the construction of countless buildings, power plants, factories, residences and businesses. This means that despite the known dangers and health risks associated with asbestos, many people could be exposed every day – including firefighters and first responders.
How Do Firefighters Get Exposed to Asbestos?
Any building or structure that was constructed prior to the late 1980s could contain asbestos. If asbestos-containing materials, such as drywall and insulation, are left undisturbed, the occupants of the building may not suffer any related health consequences. If these materials are damaged or disturbed, however, they can send asbestos dust into the air that puts anyone in the area at risk of exposure. This includes damage caused by fire.
Asbestos is naturally flame and heat-resistant, but this does not mean it cannot burn or catch on fire. If materials that contain asbestos ignite, they can send asbestos dust and microscopic particles of asbestos into the air and surrounding environment. Since firefighters are often the first to the scene of a fire, they could be at risk of inhaling asbestos dust and ash that has entered the air. They need proper protective gear and equipment to prevent this dangerous asbestos exposure.
Prior to asbestos regulations being put in place, firefighters wore protective clothing that contained asbestos, including helmets, suits, gloves and boots. In addition, they rode in fire trucks that used asbestos to reduce brake friction. Today, this is no longer the case; however, firefighters could still be exposed to asbestos when they arrive at the scene of an emergency in an older building. If a fire chief fails to properly protect his or her staff from the risk of asbestos exposure on the job, firefighters could suffer the consequences.
Who Is Liable for a Firefighter’s Exposure to Asbestos?
Part of a fire chief’s job is to protect firefighters from being exposed to asbestos. This is done using federal and state safety regulations, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s rules on asbestos in the workplace. These rules state that employers must ensure that no employee is exposed to a dangerous level of airborne asbestos. Employers can fulfill this responsibility with steps such as proper asbestos containment and personal protective equipment (PPE) provided to firefighters.
A fire station must equip all firefighters with self-contained breathing apparatuses that have high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPAs). These must be worn while extinguishing a fire to help prevent breathing in any dangerous toxins, such as asbestos. Any asbestos-containing materials, ash and debris must be properly disposed of after a fire has been extinguished. Firefighting gear and equipment that was contaminated with asbestos should be put into bags.
If a fire chief falls short of his or her duty of care, he or she could be held liable, or financially responsible, for a firefighter’s related disease. Employers can be held responsible for most occupational illnesses that befall employees. This is the case even if a firefighter is not diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease for years or decades after being exposed on the job. The affected firefighter could still bring a claim or lawsuit against the employer, government, a manufacturer of an asbestos product or other parties in pursuit of compensation.
Contact an Asbestos Attorney Today
Firefighters and other first responders are vulnerable to asbestos exposure risks. As a result, firefighters are often diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma. Bailey & Glasser, LLP is committed to supporting firefighters with occupational illnesses and cancer connected to exposure to asbestos. We can help you understand and protect your rights as a victim.
Start your case with a free consultation, where we will listen to your story and assess your legal options with you. Our attorneys have many years of experience seeking justice on behalf of firefighters who suffered toxic exposure due to the negligence of others. We can help you determine your legal options as an injured firefighter or loved one. Contact us online or call (866) 871-7971 today to schedule a case review.