firefighters and asbestosFirefighters are at increased risk for mesothelioma because of asbestos that is still present in older homes and buildings.  They may also be exposed to asbestos from contaminated clothing after building collapse or demolition.

Firefighter Asbestos Risk

Firefighters are known to face dangers every day.  They work in dangerous conditions and are often subject to poor air quality from smoke and toxins.  What is not often considered, is the risk they face due to asbestos.  Asbestos is present in many fire resistant garments and gear and is still present in a large percentage of older structures.  Due to the asbestos presence, firefighters are at risk of mesothelioma while fighting fires, after demolition or structure collapse and after the job has concluded due to asbestos contamination of clothing and protective equipment.

Awareness of Asbestos

Asbestos exposure is not always a clearly defined risk to firefighters.  Though many firefighters already face a threat of mesothelioma due to previous exposure, the key to reducing future risk is through prevention.  Firefighters should learn about asbestos exposure and measures that can be taken to minimize mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease risks.

Environmental Risks

Firefighters are known to be subject to a number of dangerous, environmental factors.  In addition to the danger posed by fire, smoke and building collapse, firefighters also face other toxins.  Toxins in the air may include burning plastics and petroleum products, along with asbestos present in many structures which may cause chronic disease including mesothelioma.

9/11 Exposure

When two planes crashed into the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001 many firefighters and first responders rushed to the scene.  In addition to people who were simply in the area, firefighters and first responders were exposed to asbestos in large quantities in the air.  Both buildings were constructed with asbestos in many areas and firefighter, volunteer and first-responder exposure continued as the site was searched and cleared.  Many of these people, including firefighters, are at risk of mesothelioma development.

Exposure Risks

Asbestos was widely used in construction and other industries for its fire retardant and heat protective properties.  Most use was discontinued but many of those products are still present in older structures.  Burning and collapsing buildings may release large quantities of asbestos dust into the air which may put firefighters at risk. In fact, firefighters have twice the risk of mesothelioma when compared to the general public.

Materials that are still present in older homes may present a severe danger to firefighters during a fire and after building collapse.  Some of these materials may include:



Electrical Wiring


Ceiling Tiles and Coatings



Additional Risks

In addition to known risks of today, asbestos was widely used in the construction of heat protective gear and fire resistant clothing.  These firefighters may have been exposed to asbestos from garments and gear, and are at a higher than normal risk of mesothelioma.

9/11 Attacks

On September 11, 2001, the world trade center was attacked.  Two planes flew into the twin towers, in an event that became known as 9/11.  Thousands of people were in the area of the trade center and the subsequent building collapses caused the deaths of 2,606 people at the site.  Included in this number were 343 firefighters who lost their lives after rushing to the disaster.  Survivors at the scene were exposed to over 400 tons of asbestos dust released into the air from asbestos used in building construction.

After the initial exposure, countless others, including firefighters, emergency workers, volunteers and debris removal personnel were exposed to asbestos dust that covered the scene.  Many of these people worked at the site for weeks, or even months.  Those 9/11 survivors and disaster relief workers faced vast amounts of asbestos exposure.  Many of these people have developed severe health conditions and still face the threat of asbestos related disease including cancer and mesothelioma.  Some have already succumbed to their illnesses.

Some of these victims may be eligible for assistance through the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act which now includes over 50 types of cancer and mesothelioma.  The battle for continued assistance is still ongoing.

Firefighter Asbestos Awareness

As firefighters are at an increased risk for asbestos exposure, it is essential that they obtain knowledge about potential health risks and threats.  It is also important that they ensure that proper preventative measures and protective gear are available and used appropriately.  Firefighters are known to have a risk of mesothelioma that is double that of the general public.

Some of these protective measures may reduce the risk of asbestos exposure though dust including:

Wear self-contained breathing apparatus when entering any building

Wet areas that are trafficked by firefighters and other personnel during and after the disaster

Thoroughly wash bunker gear, equipment, protective clothing and exposed surfaces at the scene

Learn about asbestos including potential threats along with what asbestos may look like and what products / buildings are likely to contain asbestos

Firefighters who were exposed at work are most often eligible for medical coverage through employment.  Other funds may also be available for assistance for certain groups of people who develop mesothelioma, asbestos-related cancers and other diseases due to occupational or secondary exposure.  Firefighters are one of a group of occupations that poses greater risk for mesothelioma and also includes construction trades, steel work, mining and other industries.



American Cancer Society, (18 May 2015), What is Mesothelioma?, ACS, Accessed on 03 February 2016

EPA, (National Cancer Institute, (04 December 2015), Asbestos, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Accessed on 03 February 2016

MSHA, 2016), Asbestos, U.S. Department of Labor, Accessed on 03 February 2016

National Cancer Institute, (2016), Malignant Mesothelioma – Health Professional Version, National Institutes of Health, Accessed on 01 February 2016

NIOSH, (17 October 2013), NIOSH Study of Firefighters Finds Increased Rates of Cancer, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Accessed on 03 February 2016

OSHA, (2016), Safety & Health Topics: Asbestos, Occupational Safety & Health Administration Accessed on 03 February 2016