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First Responders And Mesothelioma

As any first responder knows, it’s a dangerous job. You are often called to respond in unsafe conditions to rescue people in danger, and you do it without question about your own safety.

First responders -- police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) -- put their own safety aside to ensure the safety of others. Whether it’s a manmade disaster, like a terrorist attack, or a natural disaster, like a hurricane, first responders are put squarely in the crosshairs of danger. Among them is the threat of airborne asbestos and the resulting mesothelioma. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), up to 35 million homes, businesses and schools across the United States still contain asbestos and asbestos products. Today, it is widely used in roofing materials, among other things, because it is not banned in the U.S.

Manmade Disasters

In the past decades, there seemed to be only a few large-scale manmade disasters that required first responder involvement, such as building demolitions gone awry or arsons. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 changed everything.

When the terrorists destroyed the buildings, it released a toxic cloud of dust that lingered over Manhattan. First responders and other heroes rushed through this toxic dust without concern for their own safety, unknowingly breathing in asbestos and other chemicals. An estimated 400 tons of asbestos had been used in the World Trade Center buildings when they were constructed. The asbestos was so thick in these clouds that dozens of first responders were sick within months of the disaster.

James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act

James Zadroga, a New York City police officer, was one of many first responders at the scene. He died of a respiratory illness in 2006. When the Zadroga Act was signed into law in 2010, mesothelioma was not one of the listed conditions covered for compensation for those injured in the 9/11 attacks. By September 2012, legislators determined that the rare cancer, and 50 other types of cancer, should be included.

Boston Attacks

Following the Boston Marathon attacks in the spring of 2013, many first responders have raised concerns regarding possible asbestos exposure. Many are concerned that the two explosions that killed three and injured nearly 150 released toxic dust from the aging buildings in downtown Boston.

Natural Disasters

Initially during natural disasters, the major concerns include flooding, downed trees, damaged buildings and injuries. Many don’t take asbestos into consideration until it’s too late. Asbestos has been used liberally in buildings nationwide, especially those constructed before the 1980s. An estimated 3,000 commercial products contain asbestos, including blown-in insulation, textured paint, ceiling tile and chalkboards. During a natural disaster, this asbestos is released in the air.


In the past couple of years alone, several large hurricanes have caused extensive damage along the east coast of the U.S. This includes Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy that caused widespread flooding and building damage from high winds. In the months following the disasters, some of the buildings were so damaged that they needed to be demolished. In most cases, proper asbestos abatement safety precautions were overlooked.


With their violent rotating columns of wind, tornadoes have the potential to level towns in one pass. Throughout the Midwest in 2013 alone, tornadoes have caused devastation in towns that include Moore, Oklahoma and Joplin, Missouri. Experts have said that unsuspecting first responders and homeowners are being exposed as they try to recover injured people and personal belongings from the damaged homes.


Every year, the west coast of the U.S. deals with wildfires that cause devastation. In 2013 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, nearly 350 homes were destroyed and one person was killed when high winds propelled the fire into the city. Many firefighters were put at risk, not just from the flames and burning buildings but also the asbestos that was released into the air from the destruction.


  1. Missouri Department of Natural Resources. “Natural Disaster Assistance for Missouri Citizens - How to Handle Asbestos Containing Debris.” Retrieved from
  2. Ohlheiser, Abby, et al. “Obama: Colorado Fire Damage “Heartbreaking”. ” The Slatest. Retrieved from
  3. Peeples, Lynn. “Oklahoma Tornado Health Risks May Lie In The Rubble.” Huffington Post. Retrieved from
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