Dangerous levels of asbestos exposure are most often associated with construction and other professions in which people work with insulation, drywall, floor adhesive and other elements of properties where asbestos was often used for many years. Those who worked in shipbuilding and auto repair were often exposed to it as well.
Its use was significantly curtailed in the U.S. in the late 20th century. However, it’s never been completely banned as it has been in over 60 countries.
Why firefighters are at particular risk
First responders – especially firefighters – are also at risk of repeated asbestos exposure because they go into burning buildings where materials that contain asbestos have been damaged or destroyed. This puts dangerous asbestos fibers in the air.
Just this spring, over 100 firefighters who responded to a massive fire in a warehouse learned that they had been exposed to asbestos fibers in the building and the smoke surrounding it. They were given chest x-rays. However, it often takes decades for those exposed to asbestos to develop serious health issues.
The long-term and too often fatal health damage to first responders who went to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 two decades ago and those who worked at Ground Zero in the ensuing weeks have been widely reported on. Asbestos was among the toxic substances to which they were exposed. The twin towers of the World Trade Center contained about 350 tons of asbestos, according to Harvard University.
It’s not just the firefighters themselves who are at risk of developing asbestos-related medical conditions like mesothelioma and lung cancer. Family members and other loved ones can also be at risk. According to the American Cancer Society, this is “because the fibers can be carried home on the workers’ clothing and can then be inhaled by others in the household.”
If you used to be a firefighter, it’s crucial to understand that you may have been exposed to large amounts of asbestos. That makes it all the more important to take signs and symptoms of lung and respiratory problems seriously. It’s possible to seek compensation to help you and your family deal with the costs of fighting asbestos-related diseases.