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Why Do First Responders Have a Higher Risk of Developing Mesothelioma?

The generic term “first responder” refers to the first medically trained people to arrive at an emergency and offer medical care. Certified first responders (often referred to as “emergency medical responders” in the United States) are professionals who have received a specialized certification in providing pre-hospital care beyond first aid. These responders are trained to be among the first people on the scene of an emergency to offer medical assistance.

Who are first responders?

This is an image of first responders who may have been exposed to mesothelioma during their time of service.

Certified first responders may include:

  • Paramedics
  • Emergency medical technicians (EMTs)
  • Professional and volunteer firefighters
  • Police officers
  • Rescue squad personnel
  • Search and rescue personnel

Other first responders (both certified and non-certified) may include:

  • Lifeguards
  • Park rangers
  • Security officers
  • Ski patrollers
  • Military service members
  • Medical professionals
  • Volunteers

What do first responders do?

During an emergency such as an accident, natural disaster, or terrorist attack, first responders offer medical care to those affected. They may also lead or assist with search and rescue efforts. In the United States, certified emergency medical responders may control bleeding, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), administer oxygen or use an automated external defibrillator (AED), stabilize fractures, administer basic medications, and transport patients, among other tasks.

First responders and exposure to asbestos

This is an image of first responders arriving on the scene of an emergency in the city.Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous mineral. Asbestos is extremely durable and fire resistant and was used extensively in a variety of industrial, military, commercial, and residential applications during the 20th century. But in 1977, the International Agency for Research on Cancer named asbestos a Group 1 carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).

Since then, the use of asbestos has declined sharply in the United States, and many new uses have been banned. However, many of the homes and other buildings constructed using the material as insulation are still standing. This is usually not cause for concern, since asbestos is not dangerous unless it enters the body. However, when disturbed or damaged, microscopic asbestos fibers become airborne, where they can be inhaled or ingested. Once the fibers enter the body, they have no way of being expelled. Over time, this can lead to significant health conditions, including mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, stomach cancer, and various cancers of the throat.

Because of this, first responders such as firefighters, police officers, paramedics, EMTs, and search and rescue crews have a higher-than-average chance of exposure to asbestos when responding to disasters (fires, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, floods, etc.) or other destructive events where there has been significant damage to a structure that contains asbestos. This in turn puts first responders at a higher risk of developing asbestos-related diseases than the average person.

First responders and mesothelioma

This image represents the higher risk that firefighters have to being exposed to asbestos versus someone else.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), firefighters face a 9 percent increase in cancer diagnoses and a 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths, compared to the general U.S. population. And one of the most deadly types of cancer is mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen and is caused by exposure to asbestos.

A 2013 study conducted by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) found that firefighters are twice as likely to develop the disease than the average person. Other first responders face a similar increased risk when responding to emergencies where damaged asbestos is present.

One of the most well-known examples of first responders being put at risk of asbestos exposure (and the subsequent development of asbestos-caused diseases, including mesothelioma) is the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City. When the North and South Towers collapsed, a toxic plume of dust and debris flew into the air, including approximately 2,000 tons of asbestos.

This means that 9/11 first responders — police officers, paramedics, EMTs, firefighters, search and rescue personnel, and volunteers — who already risked their lives at Ground Zero are now also at risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. Because many of these diseases take a long time to develop (up to 50 years in many cases, and sometimes even longer), experts anticipate that asbestos-related diagnoses connected to 9/11 exposure will peak somewhere between 2021 and 2041.

Help for first responders

Because of their increased risk of exposure to asbestos, first responders should talk with their doctors about potential health risks. They may also consider requesting early or additional cancer screenings. Early detection can have a significant impact on your prognosis, since cancers like mesothelioma are more treatable at early stages.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-caused disease, you are likely entitled to financial compensation. Get a free case evaluation from a specialized asbestos attorney as soon as possible. We can also help you find an experienced mesothelioma doctor and treatment center in your area.

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Mesothelioma Hotline

We’re here for you every step of the way.

(205) 271-4100