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Firefighters and Asbestos



What Every Firefighter Should Know About Asbestos

Firefighters are at risk of asbestos exposure because of its frequent use in older structures and its ability to linger in the air even after a fire has been extinguished. Our goal is to provide firefighters with the information they need to minimize their risk of exposure including:

Firefighters are at risk of repeated asbestos exposure because they work in environments that can release asbestos fibers and over time this can lead to serious health problems including cancer. Following the attacks of September 11th asbestos and many other harmful substances were released into the air which has subsequently sickened hundreds of first responders and people within the area. Our goal is to show firefighters how they can reduce their exposure risks to asbestos and other chemicals by taking simple steps to protect their health..

What is Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which was used in a variety of construction materials before 1980. The material was eventually phased out of construction following the publication of studies that showed asbestos to be a carcinogen. However many buildings and homes contain asbestos containing materials, one estimate says that up to 80 percent of all buildings constructed before 1978.

Firefighters are often exposed to the fibers after they become airborne as a result of the fire itself and structural deterioration or failure. The following list show some of the more common asbestos containing materials. (A more complete list of asbestos-containing materials in the home.)

Definitions for Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs)

Friable: Material containing more than 1 percent asbestos (by weight) that can be reduced to dust using hand pressure. The danger with this type of material is that given its relatively low strength, it is more likely to release asbestos fibers during a fire Common examples include acoustic tiles, pipe/duct insulation, plaster, and block insulation on boilers and hot water tanks.

Non-friable: Material containing more than 1 percent asbestos (by weight) that cannot be crumbled into dust using hand pressure. This form of asbestos containing material is divided into two categories:
Category I includes gaskets, resilient floor coverings and asphalt roofing products.
Category II contains any other non-friable ACM not included in Category I.

Regulated asbestos containing materials (RACM) include friable asbestos materials and the following:

  • Category I non-friable that has become friable;
  • Category I non-friable ACM that has or will be subjected to sanding, grinding, or cutting
  • Category II non-friable ACM that has a high probability of being reduced to powder by demolition or renovation activities.

Next Section: When firefighters are vulnerable to asbestos exposure