One of the industries where workers can be exposed to asbestos, a toxic fiber, is firefighting. Asbestos was commonly used in sulation and plumbing materials up until the 1980s so during a fire, firefighters can be exposed to a number of these materials. This can be especially true if the fire is in an older building. However, a recent discovery brought the dangers of asbestos a little too close to home for some firefighters.
Asbestos has been detected in a New York fire house. It started with some renovations and asbestos removal work on some of the pipes of an old boiler in the fire house. While there was a protective enclosure set up to contain the work, the enclosure frequently fell down.
Workers started noticing a high volume of dust present in the air. Some of them independently took samples of the dust to be tested for harmful chemicals, and results came back positive for the presence of asbestos.
There were, in fact, "astronomical" levels of asbestos discovered in the fire house.
The firefighters are understandably concerned. The fire house was eventually closed, but the evacuation may not have happened soon enough. Firefighters are requesting that the city provide pulmonary function tests, chest x-rays and physicals to see if there is any preliminary damage that can be detected.
Unfortunately, some symptoms of lung disease that are a result of asbestos exposure are not detected for up to 40 years after exposure. It remains to be seen what the effects of this exposure will have on these firefighters.
While firefighters may be able to anticipate contact with asbestos while actively fighting a fire and protect themselves accordingly, they probably did not think they needed to take any protective measures while at the fire house.
If any of the workers develop mesothelioma, asbestosis or other lung diseases, they may be able to seek compensation for medical bills and loss of wages, among other expenses.
Source: Buffalo News, "Lackawanna firefighters cite concerns on asbestos," Jay Tokasz, Dec. 20, 2011