Studies find new risk for firefighters

By Vickie Papageorge
March 22, 2007

Firefighters may be putting themselves at risk in more ways than one. Recent studies that have been done by environmental health researchers at the University of Cincinnati have shown that firefighters have an increased risk of cancer.

The study, which was entirely led by the University of Cincinnati, took into account 110,000 firefighters from 32 scientific studies that had been done previously. These studies focused on researching the health effects and the cancer risks of being a firefighter.

Evidence was found that the firefighters in this particular profession are more likely to develop four different types of cancer than people working in other fields. They are twice as likely to develop testicular cancer and have higher rates of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and prostate cancer. Researchers also confirmed previous findings that firefighters are at greater risk for multiple myeloma.

Grace LeMasters, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Cincinnati, said in an article for UC Health News, said, “Firefighters work in an inherently dangerous occupation on a daily basis. As public servants, they need and deserve additional protective measures that will ensure they aren’t at an increased cancer risk.”

The study showed that the protective gear that firefighters have worn in the past proved to be incapable of protecting them from cancer-causing agents they come in contact with each time they step into the scene of a fire. Even sitting among the idling, diesel firetrucks that produce exhaust can have an extremely negative effect on the health of these people.

James Lockey, a professor of environmental health and pulmonary medicine at the University of Cincinnati, said in an article for UC Health News, “There’s a critical and immediate need for additional protective equipment to help firefighters avoid inhalation and skin exposures to known and suspected occupational carcinogens.”

The International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that the compounds firefighters are exposed to each day qualify as carcinogens or cancer-causing agents. These compounds include benzene, diesel engine exhaust, chloroform, soot, styrene and formaldehyde. All of these substances can be absorbed through the skin while firefighters are at the scene of a fire.

The study explained that in addition to the need for improvement with the gear the men wear each day, firefighters need to thoroughly wash their bodies after work each day to prevent themselves from absorbing soot and other residues from fires.

Vickie Papageorge

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