Firefighters and Mesothelioma
After some lean years as a volunteer firefighter, Jonathan Smith landed a fulltime job
with the Augusta County Virginia Fire & Rescue last fall. The young firefighters and his
wife Jennifer brought home a new baby daughter Lillian in December. With the fulltime
firefighting job he’d always wanted and a new baby, Smith had high hopes for 2012.
But the young firefighter developed a dry hacking cough that wouldn’t go away, and
flu-like symptoms. He collapsed in February and an x-ray revealed spots on his lungs
that weren’t present when he had a pre-employment medical exam a few months earlier.
Smith, a former Boy Scout, was diagnosed in February with pleural mesothelioma, an
incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs. Smith is now undergoing chemotherapy
treatment to try to slow this aggressive cancer and save his life.
Firefighters are among the workers recognized as having an occupational risk of exposure
to asbestos, which can causes malignant mesothelioma tumors in the lining of the lungs
and abdominal cavity. Firefighters are exposed to smoke, soot, byproducts of combustion
and contaminants from building materials such as asbestos, a mineral fiber used in
insulation and asbestos tiles. Firefighters may inhale airborne asbestos particles in an
older house or building damaged or destroyed by fire if they are not wearing proper
Mesothelioma and Asbestos Disease Among Firefighters
A known human carcinogen, asbestos was widely used in the construction of many
houses and buildings constructed before the early 1980s.
Many FDNY firefighters who worked at Ground Zero have experienced decreased lung function and respiratory problemssince exposure to asbestos and other toxic dust after the collapse of the World Trade Center.
According to the National Cancer Institute, a firefighter’s risk of developing
mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease depends on how much asbestos an individual is exposed to, the duration of the asbestos exposure and the chemical makeup of the asbestos fibers among other factors. But all forms of asbestos cause cancer.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is working with the United
States Fire Administration on a multi-year health study analyzing cases of cancer
and other diseases among 18,000 current and retired career firefighters. The study
will improve researchers ability to estimate the risk of cancer for firefighters and the
comparative risks to workers in other occupations.
The Stuart Draft Virginia Volunteer Fire Department, where Jonathan Smith served until
recently, held a fundraiser on March 17 to raise money for Smith’s medical treatment.
Scores of community residents attended the fundraiser to help the young firefighter who
was willing to risk his life to help them, according to the The News Leader newspaper of
Firefighters perform their jobs with remarkable courage and bravery in the face of many
dangers. Firefighters shouldn’t have to face the avoidable risk of asbestos exposure.
Firefighters who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or suspect they’ve been
exposed to asbestos on the job should talk to a knowledgeable mesothelioma lawyer.