Commentary: Firefighters and teachers bear outsize burden of asbestos deaths

Asbestos does not discriminate.

It doesn’t matter who you are – young or old, strong or frail, rich or poor, factory worker or CEO – if you inhale or ingest even one microscopic asbestos fiber, you’re at increased risk of developing a deadly disease whose symptoms may not show up for decades.

But of the estimated 12,000 to 15,000 Americans who die of asbestos-related diseases each year, some groups do bear a disproportionate burden. The death rate is highest for workers in industries in which asbestos is or was extensively used, such as construction, shipbuilding, chemicals and railroads. But while each asbestos death is tragic, the tragedy feels most horrifying and unfair when it strikes those who were exposed through their unselfish service to society. Among those more likely than the average American to die from asbestos exposure are two such groups – one that willingly put themselves in harm’s way, another that may have never known they were at risk: firefighters and teachers.

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