Asbestos and mesothelioma

Asbestos was widely used in construction during the 20th century and had many desirable properties including insulation from heat, noise attenuation and reducing building susceptibility to fire damage.

Unfortunately, one of its less desirable properties is that asbestos fibres can become airborne during disturbance such as a fire and lodge in a person's lungs, where it may lead to a potentially fatal condition known as mesothelioma. This is a debilitating form of cancer of the lungs.

As a result of this discovery, asbestos has been banned in Australia, but buildings erected in past decades may still contain asbestos and therefore may constitute a risk to firefighters.

Firefighters who enter an area where airborne particulates or dangerous toxins are present should take care to protect their lungs through wearing appropriate PPE. Fibres released during a fire and overhaul stage can remain in the air for some hours, creating a risk of contracting malignant mesothelioma.