Where There’s Smoke, There May Be Asbestos

Firefighters are highly admired for their selfless devotion to saving lives. They place their own lives at risk every time they enter a burning building. The dangers they face are many, from the threat of the flames themselves to the inhalation of smoke and toxic fumes and the risk of an engulfed building collapsing.

But some may be surprised to see that mesothelioma was among the risks they face. In fact, the rate at which firefighters developed mesothelioma was the highest of all the potential cancers, at 2.29 times higher than the general public.

The study completed by National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) examined the health of firefighters for 60 year and compared the rate of cancer with that of the general population. The prominence of the mesothelioma was found by one of the lead researchers to be “surprising.”

It is hoped that the study will raise awareness for firefighters of the importance of protecting their respiratory system when responding to calls. The study looked at firefighters in San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia, all cities with many older buildings that could contain thousands of pounds of asbestos.

The danger for firefighter is that they could remove their protective gear when the fire has been controlled and is only smoldering in a few places. However, if there is any asbestos in the smoke, the inhalation of the fibers could be the first step toward the development of mesothelioma.

Fire departments can use this study to better inform their personal of the risks from asbestos and help them to property protect themselves from cancer like mesothelioma.

Source:, “Firefighters Face Increased Risk of Developing Cancers, Including Mesothelioma,” Tim Povtak, October 25, 2013