Taking care of the grandchildren. Volunteering at church. Traveling across country in an RV. There are a lot of things we can do in retirement, including doing nothing at all. Firefighters and police officers have earned the right to do whatever they please when they put down their helmets/axes and guns/handcuffs for good. Unfortunately, many such retired safety members find themselves fighting asbestos diseases years after they stopped fighting fires and making arrests. In fact, it can take many years, more than 50 in some cases, for any asbestos-related disease to become known or symptomatic. Diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis can be devastating to retired safety members and their families, but there is help.
Most people have heard of asbestos but they have no idea what it is. Asbestos isn’t a chemical made by scientists in a lab. It is a natural fibrous mineral that is mined from rock and ground into a fine powder. Asbestos had a lot of properties that made it attractive to companies – it is a good insulator for heat or cold, lightweight, resistant to chemicals and it was cheap. Firefighters and police officers may have encountered asbestos on the job, as most industrial, commercial and residential buildings used asbestos in walls and insulation. Fire trucks and other commercial vehicles also had many asbestos parts, including the brakes, clutches and gaskets. Even personal hygiene products like talcum powder have been found to be contaminated with asbestos.
Asbestos is only hazardous when it is released as dust into the air we breathe. The fibers are so small that you need a microscope to see them. In fact, a person can inhale millions of asbestos fibers and never see the dust in the air. You don’t have to work directly with asbestos to breathe it in, as asbestos fibers float in the area for hours. Asbestos can also get on clothing only to rub off in the home, putting loved ones at risk too.
For most people, asbestos will not cause any health problems. For some, it can be disastrous. Asbestos exposure has been shown to cause mesothelioma, a rare cancer that develops in the lining of a person’s lung or abdomen. Asbestos, either alone or combined with tobacco smoke also causes lung cancer. In fact, smokers who are also exposed asbestos are at a much greater risk of getting lung cancer than unexposed smokers. There is also evidence connecting asbestos-contaminated talc to ovarian cancer. Many companies learned that asbestos was deadly in the 1940’s but they kept this a secret, continuing to sell asbestos products into the 2000’s.
Retired safety members with asbestos disease have legal rights. Employers, under workers’ compensation laws, are responsible for taking care of employees with workplace injuries, which includes asbestos diseases. Additionally, the companies that made the asbestos products can also be held responsible for the medical bills and pain and suffering associated with these very serious, devastating medical conditions. If asbestos disease has impacted you or a loved one, know that you don’t have to fight this disease alone. If you believe you have an asbestos-related health issue, you should contact an attorney experienced in handling asbestos-related matters and investigate immediately as there are time limitations on filing such claims.