Firefighters and Mesothelioma

Representative Laura Pantelakos, D-Rockingham, has introduced House Bill 1489 in an effort to create the Firefighters with Heart, Lung and Cancer Disease Fund. The impetus for the bill comes from a study conducted by the U.S. Fire Administration. According to the study, firefighters develop  mesothelioma at twice the rate of the general U.S. population as a whole. This is groundbreaking news, as no other study has ever identified the higher number of incidents of mesothelioma among firefighters.

Details of the Study

The U.S. Fire Administration partnered with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to conduct the study. The goal of the study was to illuminate the correlation between the exposure to dangerous materials experienced by firefighters and cancer development. Previous studies employed much smaller group sizes and person-years at risk; this study aimed to increase the precision of estimating disease risks by expanding those categories and analyzing whether (1) “more cancers than expected occurred among the group” and (2) “cancers are definitively associated with exposures to the contaminants which firefighters have been exposed.”

The survey covered approximately 30,000 firefighters in San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia who were employed as firefighters between 1950 and 2009. The study confirmed the increased risk of mesothelioma among firefighters, which is likely due to an increased risk of asbestos exposure on the job. Asbestos, once widely used in construction as insulation, has been known to become toxic when it is exposed in fires. Exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma many years later. Even though firefighters wear self-contained breathing apparatuses, the equipment does not protect them from all airborne contaminants, especially when it is impossible to know all the contaminants at each fire incident. Because asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma, it stands to reason that firefighters were exposed to it in the line of duty.

Discussion of the Bill

House Bill 1489, introduced by Representative Pantelakos, would create a fund to reimburse medical costs in workers’ compensation coverage for firefighters and impose a presumption that the incidence of cancer among firefighters is work-related. A previous version of the bill passed in 1987 but was later ruled unconstitutional because it lacked a clear funding source. This time, insurance carriers and self-insurers would bear the costs through an annual assessment via an amount not to exceed one percent of total residential and commercial insurance policies in the previous calendar year. The Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire worked with State Representative Pantelokas to design the bill. According to New Hampshire Fire Lt. Russ Osgood, most firefighters know and accept the risks commonly associated with their line of work, but nevertheless he emphasizes that “you’re trying to fight for your life from something you got at work and the next thing you know you’re at risk of losing your home because cancer is not an inexpensive proposition.” House Bill 1489 would provide a much-needed source of help for firefighters exposed to asbestos.

There are many funds set up to assist those who have been affected by asbestos. If you or someone you know has been exposed, please contact an experienced mesothelioma attorney today.

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