Emergency Medical Technicians have a higher than normal risk of developing malignant mesothelioma, the rare and aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
Unfortunately, it comes with the job.
The recent train crash in Hoboken brought to light the often unspoken dangers that EMTs face when they work in close proximity to disaster and accident sites. Damage to the station released high levels of toxic asbestos, which causes mesothelioma, and delayed the investigation and cleanup of the crash site. EMTs at the scene are putting themselves at risk while providing immediate help for those involved in the crash. Investigators who arrived at the scene later were told to leave the station to avoid being exposed and avoid the risk of developing this deadly cancer. Investigators returned only after the proper asbestos cleanup had been done to reduce the risk, and a trained asbestos abatement team made sure it was safe.
The Hoboken train station was built long ago, a time when asbestos was used extensively in construction. Once coveted for its ability to strengthen and fireproof most any material, asbestos becomes toxic when its microscopic fibers are released into the air.
EMTs often face this same kind of danger when working in any older structure, damaged by fire, explosions or normal wear and tear. It’s a risk they take unless proper respiratory protection is taken.
Mesothelioma is diagnosed in an estimated 3,000 people annually in the United States. Most cases were caused by prolonged occupational exposure to asbestos, but no amount of exposure is considered safe.
It can take anywhere from 20-50 years after first exposure to be diagnosed with mesothelioma. It starts with the inhalation or ingestion of the tiny fibers, which become lodged in the thin membrane surrounding the lungs or the abdominal cavity. The fibers cause scarring, which eventually can lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer or other serious illnesses.
There are several treatment options to help those who develop mesothelioma, but the best medicine is preventative. With such a lengthy latency period between exposure and diagnosis, most people dismiss the risk, which is the wrong thing to do. Staying aware of your surroundings is important.
There are other professions considered high risk for developing mesothelioma. Among them:
There are measures an EMT can take to reduce the risk of exposure.
For more information contact The Mesothelioma Center