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Study: firefighters' mesothelioma risk twice the national average

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, just completed a major study on the risk faced by firefighters of contracting mesothelioma and other cancers. Unfortunately, the study found the group suffers from all forms of cancer at a higher rate than the national average. And, for the first time, the study documented the long-suspected increased risk of mesothelioma among firefighters.

The peer-reviewed study, which appeared in the October issue of the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, followed nearly 30,000 firefighters from Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco over time. Some of them had been working in the field since 1950. Researchers analyzed their cancer rates and deaths from cancer through 2009.

Because asbestos-laden materials are so common in existing structures, firefighters are extremely likely to come into contact with the cancer-causing material. For the first time, this study followed a sufficient number of subjects for a long enough time that the evidence was solid: firefighters suffer from mesothelioma at twice the rate as the U.S. population as a whole. The firefighters were also at a substantially increased risk of cancers in the digestive, urinary and respiratory systems.

This study did not consider the types of exposure leading to the increased risk of cancer, or whether their exposure occurred in the course of their employment. NIOSH is continuing the study to further examine the subjects’ work histories and to confirm potential sources of the exposure.

Asbestos-containing materials have long been known to cause mesothelioma and other cancers in those exposed to them, even second-hand. While progress has been made in eliminating asbestos from household and construction materials, the legacy of their use continues -- this time through an increased risk of cancer among those we consider most heroic.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it’s virtually certain that the cause was asbestos exposure. Please consider discussing your situation with an attorney.

Source: Occupational Health & Safety magazine, "Mesothelioma, Other Cancers Higher Among Firefighters," Oct. 18, 2013

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