Firefighters literally risk their lives to save everyone from harmful situations. Their innate bravery, selflessness, and passion stem from their sense of duty, mesmerizing everyone. American firefighters have a track record of a whopping 71% survival rate among rescues.
Yes, they protect everyone else. However, they are unable to safeguard themselves from chemical exposures that are detrimental to their health.
Many industries haven’t been kind to them, either. For example, chemical giants like 3M and DuPont neglected the harmful effects of certain elements and used them in firefighting gear. Today, lawsuits allege commercial negligence and personal injury against such companies.
For many years, firefighters have been unknowingly exposed to harmful synthetic elements in their equipment, leading them to develop serious health issues. Statistics suggest that 9% of firefighters have an increased risk of developing cancer from inhaling harmful vapor, air, and particulates. Apart from that, firefighters know about some chemical contaminants but consider them part of the job.
In this blog, we will discuss three types of hazardous elements that every firefighter in America has been exposed to.
#1. Per-and-Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) is a type of fire extinguisher used to deal with Class B fuel fires. This foam is highly effective when extinguishing high-hazard flames like gasoline, oil, and jet fuel fires.
However, reports suggest AFFF has a high concentration of a harmful chemical called PFAS. This substance has been in consumer products and fire extinguishers since the 1950s. PFAS is a surfactant in AFFF that cools down the fire and suppresses oxygen flow.
Even with its effectiveness, PFAS is a synthetic chemical that doesn’t break down in nature and stays in the human body for a long time. Continuous exposure to PFAS can cause different types of cancer, cholesterol problems, pregnancy issues, developmental delays, behavioral issues, and more.
According to TorHoerman Law, AFFF manufacturers knew about the health hazards and environmental concerns of using PFAS. However, they didn’t warn the firefighters about the side effects. When the firefighters learned about this, they filed an AFFF lawsuit, alleging failure to warn, false advertising, and commercial negligence.
They wanted to gain compensation for the personal injuries PFAS contamination caused. These include loss of wages, medical expenses, permanent disability, etc. Today, individual AFFF lawsuit settlement amounts can range between USD 40,000 and USD 300,000.
Based on Mesothelioma.net’s observations, exposure to asbestos among firefighters is often overlooked. They state that firefighters are twice as likely to develop cancer due to asbestos poisoning.
But how do they get exposed to such a harmful chemical? Before asbestos was classified as a carcinogen, it was used in the manufacturing industry for many years.
Firefighters get contaminated with this element from burning buildings, fire trucks, and their equipment. When they enter a burning building, they inhale asbestos fibers from the roofing, furnaces, flooring, etc.
Protective gear like boots, jackets, and gloves also had asbestos due to its heat-resistant features. Furthermore, manufacturers used this element to build brakes, clutches, seals, etc., in fire trucks.
Asbestos is present in old fire stations as well. Hence, firefighters get exposed when repairing something in their building.
All these resulted in the firefighters getting exposed to the harmful effects of asbestos. They soon developed an increased risk of lung cancer, colon cancer, and mesothelioma.
According to the CDC, phthalates are a chemical group that makes plastics durable. The industry refers to them as plasticizers because they can decrease viscosity and friction when added to any other substance.
They are used in vinyl flooring, personal-care products, cleaning solutions, lubricating oils, medical tubing, hose pipes, etc. Referred to as the ‘everywhere chemical,’ phthalates are also found in plastic food containers.
Reports suggest firefighters get exposed to this chemical when performing decontamination duties after a fire incident. For example, if the department uses fragrant conventional cleaning chemicals, the firefighter’s equipment can get contaminated.
Firefighters are exposed to this by breathing in phthalate particles and ingesting food or drinks contaminated with this element. Prolonged exposure to high levels of this chemical leads to impaired cardiovascular health. Examples include coronary artery disease and heart failure. Firefighters might also develop obesity, diabetes, arrhythmias, and hypertension.
The Bottom Line
Exposure to these synthetic elements has been an issue among firefighters for many years. According to the University of Washington, responding to emergencies jeopardizes the firefighter’s overall health because they become susceptible to toxin exposure or contamination. Due to that, they have an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, reproductive issues, etc.
They can also pass on such contamination to their family members and peers. To avoid that, firefighters should always wear protective gear and reduce direct skin exposure. Moreover, they must clean their equipment and bathe after every operation. These can surely minimize the effects of PFAS, asbestos, and phthalates on firefighters and their family members.