A New Hampshire legislator is pushing to fund a mandate that would help support firefighters who contract malignant mesothelioma.
A U.S. Fire Administration/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study of nearly 30,000 firefighters released last October found that firefighters are diagnosed with mesothelioma at twice the rate of the general public. This is believed to be due to their inadvertent on-the-job exposure to asbestos, the cause of mesothelioma. According to the report, “Given that asbestos is the only known causal agent for malignant mesothelioma, and firefighter exposures are probable, the excess is likely to be a causal association.”
A group called the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire has worked with State Representative Laura Pantelokas, D-Portsmouth, to introduce legislation to fund a law that would entitle firefighters to worker’s compensation payouts for all types of cancer, including mesothelioma. Because of the extensive exposure of firefighters to toxins like asbestos, the law would “presume” that their cancer is work-related. Although it was originally passed by the New Hampshire legislature in 1987, the law was ruled unconstitutional because it had not been funded at that time.
“We’re introducing a piece of legislation that would fund and make that law active and we think that law is as important today as it was when it was first passed,” Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire president Dave Lang told a New Hampshire online news outlet.
Lang told Seacoast Online that, although firefighters may be able to protect themselves against respiratory cancers like mesothelioma with special respirators, they may absorb other types of toxins through their skin. In addition, due to the nature of firefighting, it is not always feasible to put on the heavy or cumbersome protective gear, especially when time is short.
In conjunction with the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, a group of volunteers is traveling the state, trying to make their colleagues more aware of their risk of mesothelioma and other cancers. To minimize the danger, the group encourages firefighters to wear appropriate gear and to wash themselves and their gear with the hottest water possible immediately after returning from a fire. One firefighter told Seacoast Online that dirty gear is almost “a badge of honor” for some firefighters.
McMenemy, Jeff, “Firefighters Face Higher Risk of Cancer”, Seacoast Online, December 15, 2013.
Study of Cancer Among Firefighters, US Fire Administration website.