cancer letter and info
Why are Firefighters Dying of Cancer?
I will start by explaining the environment in which firefighters work. A modern house fire is closer to a HAZMAT scene than a fire. The smoke created by all the synthetic materials is highly volatile and contains some really nasty stuff. Studies completed by NIOSH and Underwriter Laboratories (UL) listed the carcinogens found in smoke as: Arsenic, Asbestos, Benzene, Butadiene, PAHs, and Styrene. UL also analyzed the gloves and hoods worn by firefighters and found many of the same carcinogens.
All of these carcinogens are floating in the air, but many of them can also be absorbed through the skin. Skin permeability can increase over 700 fold as the temperature increases. The temperatures of a house fire can be in excess of 1800 degrees Fahrenheit (F). The protective gear worn by firefighters reduces the heat but it is still well over 100 degrees F inside their gear.
The studies examined showed a correlation between firefighters and cancer. They were also used to show a contrast between firefighters and others with a high risk of cancer. The studies were published by: NIOSH, IARC, and Oxford university. A summary of the following statistics is attached.
Studies show firefighters are up to 44% more likely to die than the average person from the following cancers: Leukemia, lung, esophageal and bladder. Only miners and smokers are more likely to die from the same cancers, with mortality rates as high as 84%. However, firefighters are more likely to die than both miners and smokers from the following cancers: Mesothelioma, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Myeloma, stomach, rectal, kidney, breast, thyroid, prostate, colon (equal to a smoker). The most alarming mortality rates are found with Mesothelioma, Myeloma, and thyroid cancer, which are 50%, 57% & 79%, respectively.
Looking back over the past few decades the ignorance of the fire service is almost unfathomable. In 1964 the Surgeon General released an official opinion warning against the dangers of smoking. We missed the correlation between cigarette smoke and house fire smoke. It wasn’t until the 1980’s the use of breathing equipment (SCBAs) became prevalent in the fire service. As late as the 2000’s firefighters would use SCBAs intermittently while working inside of house fires. In just the last few years, firefighters have started wearing respirators while working in houses after the smoke is gone. Today, most fire stations don’t have extractors to wash firefighting gear. Recall the previously mentioned carcinogens found in the soiled gear. What is the cost of our lack of funding? We, the fire service, have done a terrible job of protecting our firefighters, so it should come as no surprise they are paying the ultimate price for our ignorance.