Firefighters & Asbestos: An SCBA Might Just Save Your Life
Firefighters face an immense number of occupational dangers – but what many people may not consider is the risk of asbestos exposure, and the failure to recognize this dangerous hazard may be costing firefighters their life. Asbestos exposure is the only confirmed cause of pleural mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer that affects the lungs.
An SCBA, or self-contained breathing apparatus, is arguably the most important safety device that a firefighter will utilize. An SCBA provides a firefighter will non-toxic, breathable air during the extinguishment phase of a fire. There are generally three components to an SCBA: a high-pressure tank, a regulator and a mouthpiece. The tank stores clean air; the regulator controls the device output and the mouthpiece covers the mouth and nose and delivers air to the firefighter.
What makes an SCBA so important? Consider the number of toxins present in the air during a fire: carbon dioxide, fluorocarbons, and fumes are only the beginning. What many people do not know is that asbestos can also be released into the air during and after a fire, putting firefighters at a heightened risk for inhalation of asbestos fibers. In fact, at least 35 million U.S. residences harbor asbestos-containing products, including attic insulation, drywall, acoustical plaster, stucco, roofing tiles, floor and ceiling tiles, and even duct tape. If these asbestos-containing materials are damaged by the high heat of a fire, they may release tiny asbestos fibers into the air. If inhaled, asbestos fibers, which have a unique claw-like structure, can cling to the pleural lining of the lungs for up to fifty years before an individual may begin to suffer from common mesothelioma symptoms. The latent period for pleural mesothelioma cancer is anywhere between twenty and fifty years, so individuals who were employed as a firefighter but are now retired or working in a different profession still face the risk of one day developing mesothelioma.
Wearing an SCBA might save the lives of thousands of firefighters – if you do not inhale asbestos, you cannot develop mesothelioma. If you are a firefighter who suspects that you may have been exposed to asbestos, it is advisable to consult with a doctor to determine whether or not you are at an elevated risk of eventually developing mesothelioma cancer. Upon a mesothelioma diagnosis, patients generally succumb to this rapid disease in less than two years, and the survival rate associated with mesothelioma is less than 1%.
The Mesothelioma & Asbestos Awareness Center is the web’s leading resource for information related to occupational asbestos exposure, mesothelioma, mesothelioma treatment, and more. Please visit the MAACenter website, www.maacenter.org, for important safety information specifically for firefighters.