New laws address high mesothelioma risk among firefighters

This article looks at mesothelioma risk among firefighters and how new laws are trying to address it.

Firefighters have one of the most dangerous jobs, but what may surprise many people is that the biggest risk that firefighters face is not fire itself or running into a burning building, but cancer. As the Columbus Dispatch reports, in 2017 190 names of deceased firefighters from the U.S. and Canada were added to the Fallen Fire Fighter's Memorial in Colorado Springs in 2017. Of those 190 firefighters, 153 died from work-related cancers. Furthermore, a survey of 360 Ohio fire chiefs found that 95 percent of them considered cancer to be the greatest occupational threat faced by firefighters. The risk of mesothelioma is especially high among firefighters.

Mesothelioma and other cancer risks

In 2017, the Columbus Dispatch surveyed 1,300 firefighters across Ohio and found that one out of every six of them was suffering from some type of cancer. Firefighters face a number of different carcinogens in their job, including from flame-retardant chemicals and dangerous toxins that are released when buildings or vehicles are on fire.

The mesothelioma risk that firefighters face is especially high. As Asbestos.com notes, a 2013 study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that the rate of mesothelioma was 2.29 times higher for firefighters than the general public. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, which is found in many structures built between the 1930s and 1970s. When these buildings burn, asbestos is often released into the air.

New laws take aim at firefighter cancer risk

In early 2017, Ohio introduced legislation that classified many types of cancers, including mesothelioma, as occupational diseases for firefighters. That law means that firefighters suffering from cancer will have a much easier time applying for workers' compensation. While the law is the right step forward, however, it does suffer from serious limitations. Most notably, firefighters who have not been on hazardous duty for 20 years or more are ineligible, despite the fact that symptoms of mesothelioma can take 20 to 50 years to develop after exposure to asbestos.

On the federal level, President Trump recently signed into law Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown's bill The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act. The law requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create and maintain a voluntary database of cancer incidents among firefighters. It is hoped that the registry will make it easier to track the prevalence of occupational cancers, including mesothelioma, among firefighters. That data can then be used to institute better cancer prevention strategies among firefighters.

Help for mesothelioma victims

Those suffering from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases should know that help is available, including in the form of compensation. An attorney who is experienced in asbestos-related cases can help mesothelioma sufferers understand what compensation may be available and how to go about pursuing a claim.