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Firefighters twice as likely to develop mesothelioma

Firefighters are vital to the health and safety of communities across the U.S. While there are obvious dangers in firefighting, some lesser-known risks are also taking their toll.

A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, first published in 2016, revealed that firefighters are at increased risk of developing cancer. A similar study conducted in 2017 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that firefighters were twice as likely as the general population to develop mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

Last month, NBC news ran a story on the high rate of cancer among Boston firefighters, who experience cancer at an alarming rate. According to The International Association of Firefighters, cancer is the leading cause of death for firefighters.

State legislator looking to fund research

A former firefighter and current member of the Indiana General Assembly is looking to research the issue in 2018. He is asking state legislators in Indiana to fund research into the risk firefighters have of being exposed to carcinogens.

While some links are clear, it is important to determine all potential sources of exposure to carcinogens, including asbestos, to help lessen risk.

Limiting exposure to asbestos

Serious fires can take out walls, insulation and other structural components. In older homes and commercial buildings, such structures may contain asbestos. Used in part for its benefits as a flame retardant, asbestos is an extremely toxic substance that causes lung cancer and mesothelioma. Firefighters can be exposed to asbestos dust in the line of duty.

The link between firefighting and mesothelioma may help firefighters minimize exposure to asbestos. A similar understanding of why other cancers may develop in firefighters could similarly lead to actions to help firefighters mitigate risk.

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