Of all the risks that firefighters face, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases ranks pretty high, as any fire-engulfed buildings built before 1980 likely have asbestos hidden behind their walls. Knowing this, imagine the level of dedication and courage that it takes for firefighters to knowingly fight a firefighter in a forest known to be heavily contaminated with years worth of the toxic material. That is exactly what is happening right now in Libby, Montana.
Most people know Libby as one of America’s most notorious mesothelioma tragedies. The town was the location of the W. R. Grace and Company vermiculite mine, where asbestos-contaminated materials were dug up and transported so carelessly that every inch of the town and its surroundings were heavily contaminated with the toxic material. Thousands of Libby residents were sickened and the area has been an EPA Superfund site for decades: residents will be tested for mesothelioma for years to come, and despite thousands of tons of contaminated top soil being removed and hundreds of houses going through asbestos remediation, contamination remains, especially in the forests surrounding the old mine. That area is now threatens by the Highway 37 Fire, so specially trained firefighters are donning protective equipment and working to prevent the area from being part of the conflagration.
Before entering the area and at every step along the way, the firefighters need to be conscientious in order to minimize their risk of mesothelioma. They wear full face respirators which provide them with just 60 to 70 percent of normal airflow. This means that it takes twice as long to get their job done, and they tire faster and more easily. Once their shift is done they have to go through a two shower decontamination process that takes three to four hours, and every article of clothing or personal item that goes with them has to be cleaned three times. They don’t even bother to bring their heavy equipment back with them until the fire is fully contained, as that cleanup process takes 12 hours.
Though neighbors are acutely concerned that the fire might increase their own risk of mesothelioma, local experts say that the risk is low, as studies have shown that very little asbestos gets carried through smoke. The real risk comes from those who are exposed to the ash.
If your work exposed you to asbestos and you weren’t provided the level of protection being given to today’s firefighters, we understand your anger and pain. Call us today to learn how we can help. We can be reached at 1-800-966-2244.