Being a police officer carries with it many dangers. No matter where an officer serves, be it in a highly-populated urban area or a back-country rural precinct, obvious hazards are always present. Unfortunately, there are also some hazards that aren’t so obvious and are often overlooked but, nevertheless, are a real concern for the officers who serve their communities. Asbestos is one of those dangers.
When a police officer goes out into the field, he or she never knows what or who they will encounter. They may need to track down dangerous criminals, solve a domestic dispute, assist with a medical emergency, or participate in any number of other tasks for which police officers are called upon on a regular basis.
Of course, most officers don’t stop and think about the dangers they are facing when on a call. These dedicated professionals are merely focused on doing what they vowed to do when they became police officers and are generally more focused on the safety and well being of others than on their own safety.
Hence, when entering a scene where asbestos might be present, they usually don’t give the fact that hazardous materials might be present a second thought. Unfortunately, any exposure to asbestos can be dangerous. When police enter an old home, factory, or commercial building that contains damaged or worn asbestos, no matter what the reason for being there, they can inhale sharp, toxic fibers that will later wreak havoc with their pulmonary systems. A good example of this are the old homes that are often used for illicit reasons, like “crack” houses or meth labs. These are usually in a run-down neighborhood and are generally in terrible condition. Damaged asbestos materials are often found inside.
When assisting with fires, police officers face similar hazards. Any old structure that was built prior to about 1980 may contain asbestos, and when it’s on fire, it’s easy for toxic fibers to circulate through the air, even outside. Hence, inhalation is possible. Enough exposure to asbestos could eventually result in the formation of the asbestos cancer known as mesothelioma. The tragedy of Sept. 11 was a good example of exactly what can circulate through the air during a collapse and/or fire. Today, many first responders – including police officers – are sick due to exposure to toxins from the World Trade Center disaster and some have been diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer.
Asbestos in Common Areas
Police officers are exposed to asbestos not only out in the field but also within their own precincts, in particular, those that are housed in buildings that are quite old. Numerous reports of asbestos-tainted police headquarters and precincts have surfaced in the last few years, some quite serious. That’s because in older buildings that were built in the early to mid 20th century, asbestos was common in hundreds of construction materials and was used to manufacture insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, drywall, and in many other places. Whenever these materials are worn, they present a risk. In addition, when improvements are made to the precincts without proper removal of this material, problems with asbestos are further complicated as those who work inside can be exposed to the toxic fibers released during removal.
Old police cars may also contain asbestos. The material was once used extensively for the manufacture of friction products like brakes and clutches. Police officers who maintained police cars while asbestos was still in use may have inhaled sharp asbestos fibers as a result of their maintenance duties. Today, they are also candidates for mesothelioma.
Other Risks of Police Work
Provided below is additional information about the risks and hazards that police officers can encounter while on the job.
Police officers can encounter a variety of hazardous materials while on the job including lead, mercury, PCB’s and asbestos.
Police officers are sometimes subjected to asbestos exposure while serving in the line of duty and many have developed mesothelioma as a result, especially those who responded to the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11.
K-9 police dogs are exposed to the same toxic substances as police officers and can also be at risk for developing mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure.
There are a number of precautions that police officers can take to prevent exposure to harmful substances like asbestos.