Under a new Ohio law, firefighters may receive workers’ compensation benefits for occupational cancers including Mesothelioma. On January 4, 2017 Ohio Governor John Kasich signed the Michael Louis Palumbo Jr, Act.
According to a recent article, the bill classifies cancer as an occupational disease for firefighters which permits them to file claims under the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
There are limitations under the Act. Eligibility requires that a firefighter have at least six years of active duty and a known history of exposure to cancer-causing toxins such as asbestos. They also must have been away from hazardous duty for more than 20 years. Coverage may be denied if the firefighter is diagnosed after the age of 70, or if the cancer is linked to other causes such as smoking or other tobacco use.
The article cites a 2013 NIOSH study which showed that firefighters have significantly higher rates of cancer compared to the general public. Most had cancers of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems. The incidence rates for Mesothelioma were 2.29 times higher for firefighters.
NIOSH suggested that the findings were related to asbestos exposure. Many homes and buildings built between the 1930s and 1970s contain asbestos which fibers may become airborne when damaged by fire or other disasters.
According to Doug Stern of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, (OAPFF), the vast majority of asbestos exposures for firefighters are connected to them looking for hot spots which involves pulling up flooring and tearing down walls in burning buildings. Stern expressed that prevention is important with necessary precautions needing to be utilized such as wearing breathing apparatuses from the time of entering to leaving a site.
While this legislation is in the arena of workers’ compensation, it provides a reminder that potential asbestos exposure may lie in non-traditional areas of occupational exposure.