Mesothelioma and Prostate Cancer Common Among North Carolina Firefighters

3 Min Read

a firefighter puts out a fire

In a recent state government report, mesothelioma and prostate cancer were some of the most prominent forms of cancer among North Carolina firefighters. Firefighters — along with others who were regularly exposed to asbestos, like U.S. veterans — are at a higher risk of mesothelioma. Learn what’s being done to help those affected below.

New Report Notes Mesothelioma Risk Among North Carolina Firefighters

According to an April 2021 report from the North Carolina Insurance Commissioner’s Office, mesothelioma and prostate cancer were the most common forms of this cancer that affected firefighters in the state. This data comes after the North Carolina Insurance Commissioner started a cancer registry within the Office of State Fire Marshal in March 2021.

So far, there were 8 reported cases of mesothelioma and 8 cases of prostate cancer. The only other category with a higher reported number of cases was the “other cancers” category, with 14 cases.

This is alarming, but important information. Mesothelioma is a rare and incurable form of cancer. Modern-day firefighters are at risk of mesothelioma if they’re exposed to asbestos by putting out fires in older buildings.

Hopefully, the state of North Carolina can use this data to accommodate the needs of firefighters with mesothelioma — and others who are also at risk, such as U.S. veterans — in the future.

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Firefighters and Asbestos Exposure Risk

Firefighters have a greater risk of mesothelioma since their duties can put them in contact with asbestos exposure.

Between the 1930s and early 1980s, asbestos was commonly used to make homes, office buildings, and other structures. Asbestos materials like siding and insulation were highly durable and reduced the risk of fires — but if disturbed, they released microscopic fibers into the air. Those who inhale or swallow asbestos fibers can develop mesothelioma decades later.

Did you know

Firefighters were put at risk if fires and smoke sent microscopic fibers flying into the air. Sadly, since many old buildings still contain asbestos-based products, the risk of exposure remains high for firefighters today.

It’s not just firefighters in North Carolina, either — it’s firefighters everywhere. For example, over 100 firefighters in Houston were possibly exposed to asbestos in May 2021 after an older building caught fire.

Fortunately, every state (except North Carolina) offers cancer benefits for firefighters and first responders.

What Other Groups Are at Risk of Mesothelioma?

Firefighters are not the only group with a high risk of asbestos exposure. Several other groups are more likely to be exposed to asbestos during their professional work.

For decades, dozens of occupations put people in direct contact with asbestos on a daily basis. Some jobs still come with a high risk of exposure to this day.

Others with a high risk of mesothelioma include:

Veterans
U.S. veterans are at a higher risk of mesothelioma since many served during the 1930s and 1980s – a period when asbestos was heavily used by the military. U.S. Navy veterans have the highest risk of asbestos exposure because the material was common in shipbuilding. Engine workers had some of the highest levels of exposure.

While the U.S. military has stopped using asbestos in new assets, active-duty personnel can be exposed in combat zones if older buildings made with asbestos explode. Some older military bases, barracks, and ships also still contain asbestos-based products.

Construction workers
Construction workers were at a higher risk of asbestos exposure because they often tore down old structures and built new ones. All these activities could send asbestos fibers flying into the air.

Generally, modern construction companies avoid asbestos products. However, these products have not been completely banned and some are still for sale today.

Mechanics
Before the risks were widely known, car parts were made with asbestos to reduce friction and heat. Fire engines and vehicles used by the U.S. military often contained asbestos-based products.

Mechanics are still at risk of asbestos exposure because some new parts for cars are still allowed to have a limited percentage of asbestos. This means that mechanics may be at risk while working with newer parts, even though they have lower levels of asbestos than older ones.

Help For Firefighters & Veterans With Mesothelioma

The North Carolina study of firefighters and asbestos is key for helping people in the future. Policymakers need data in order to be able to make informed choices about public health and safety.

“With the data collected through the cancer registry, we plan to give legislators and other officials more solid information so they can help protect the firefighters and first responders who protect their communities.”

— State Fire Marshal Mike Causey

Hopefully, state legislators will pass laws that give North Carolina firefighters the same cancer benefits as those offered in every other state.

If you or a loved one that has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you have options. Our team may be able help you pursue vital services like medical care, VA benefits for veterans, and financial compensation. Get a free veterans packet for more information.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

View 2 Sources
  1. Barer, David. “115 Austin Firefighters Potentially Exposed to Asbestos at Warehouse Blaze.” KXAN Austin, KXAN Austin, 11 May 2021, www.kxan.com/investigations/115-austin-firefighters-potentially-exposed-to-asbestos-at-warehouse-blaze/.
  2. Emert, Jennifer. “Mesothelioma, Prostate Cancers Most Common among Cases Reported by NC Firefighters.” WLOS, WLOS, 17 May 2021, wlos.com/news/news-13-investigates/deadlier-than-fire/documentary-mesothelioma-prostate-cancers-most-common-among-cases-reported-by-nc-firefighters.