Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

San Diego Firefighters Exposed to Asbestos at Training Facility

June 11, 2019

San Diego Until last summer, San Diego firefighters were training in a facility built with asbestos. Because their training activities involving breaching walls and doors, some firefighters were exposed to asbestos for hundreds of hours over two decades. Now almost 1,000 firefighters have filed documents to ensure their right to financial compensation for asbestos cancer.

Fortunately, no active or retired firefighters have been diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer and no asbestos lawsuits have been filed – yet. Rather, firefighters have filed documents just in case anyone gets sick. Jesse Connor, union president, said it is just a form that all employees can submit to risk management to officially record that they had some type of minor injury or exposure.

Asbestos exposure is far from minor. First responders were constantly exposed to asbestos in floors, ceilings and walls without knowing they were at risk for this deadly disease –-asbestos mesothelioma. But some “officials” knew the buildings contained asbestos and the health hazards they posed, according to NBC 7 News.

Firefighter Asbestos Risk Ignored

Thousands of first responders face an added, avoidable health risk. Firefighters told the news station that they were furious when they discovered they were exposed to asbestos –and for such a long time. The city responded slowly, maybe as long as 15 years to fix the problem. An investigation by NBC 7 revealed that the fire department was aware of asbestos risk since at least 2002, and they “failed to act quickly and decisively to protect first responders training at San Diego’s Fire Academy.”

City Councilman Chris Cate criticized city officials. He told the San Diego Herald Tribune that the city has handled facilities for public safety training in the “same shortsighted way it's handled other infrastructure challenges in recent decades, that is, instead of focusing on long-term solutions that might be more expensive, city officials have opted for cheaper fixes that come with problems.” Another councilman said that proper facilities for firefighter training should be a priority.

And Connor encourages retired firefighters who trained in these facilities to join the 908 firefighters who have already signed these documents. "If you had an exposure in that 20-plus years, then you could potentially be eligible for some type of recovery if you come down with symptoms," the union president said.

Research published in 2013 from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that firefighters die from certain types of cancer at higher rates than the general U.S. population. “There were about twice as many fire fighters with malignant mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos… Exposure to asbestos while fire fighting is the most likely explanation for this,” said researchers.

Although the San Diego training facility was closed last summer – and not until pressured by the Union, it doesn’t close the book on firefighters who are asking for long-term medical testing. And possibly legal help should they develop asbestos-related cancer.