3 Tips to Reduce Firefighter Cancer Risk

Estimated read time 5 min read


Firefighters are the unsung heroes who risk their lives to save other people from the ravages of fire. You may think that burns or inhaling toxic smoke would be the leading cause of death among firefighters, but they aren’t.

A study reveals that firefighters are three times more likely to die from cancers, including leukemia. Death rates due to cancer are 1.6 times higher in firefighters compared to the general population.

But what increases firefighters’ risk of cancer? We’ll discuss that in this guide and share a few tips to help you reduce your cancer risk.

Why are Firefighters at an Increased Risk of Cancer?

Firefighting is a high-risk occupation. That’s mainly because it exposes firefighters to hundreds of chemicals in the form of vapors, gasses, and particulates.

Many of these substances are suspected to be carcinogens, while some are proven to be carcinogenic. These include asbestos, flame retardants, benzene, formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Exposure to these compounds may increase firefighters’ risk of developing certain types of cancers, such as bladder, breast, and colon.

However, researchers are particularly concerned about PFAS. It’s easy to see why: these can persist in the environment for a long time, are highly toxic even at low concentrations, and are prevalent in firefighting foams.

Firefighters are routinely exposed to PFAS through AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) to suppress Class B fires that derive from combustible and flammable liquids.

As such, they inhale PFAS-containing particulate matter, which increases the levels of PFAS in their bloodstream. This elevates their risk of developing certain types of cancers, especially kidney cancer and testicular cancer.

Firefighters’ protective gear also contains PFAS, but AFFF poses a greater threat to their health. That’s because they are drenched in it and ingest and absorb some of it through their eyes and other mucous membranes.

A growing number of lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturers of AFFF. TorHoerman Law observes that the defendants in the firefighting foam cancer lawsuits are companies that have supplied firefighting foam to military bases, fire departments, airports, and others. Chemguard Inc., Tyco Fire Products, Chemours, DuPont, and 3M are companies named in the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs in the firefighting foam cancer lawsuit allege that the manufacturers sold the cancer-causing AFFF despite being aware of its toxicity.

More than 6,000 cases are pending in the AFFF class action multidistrict litigation. Lawyers estimate that the settlement amount could range between $200,000 and $600,000.

What Can Firefighters Do to Reduce Their Risk of Cancer?

You can reduce your risk of cancer by following these safety measures:

1. Take off Your Gear as soon as Possible

During firefighting operations, personal protective equipment ensembles of firefighters get contaminated with a host of harmful substances. Following a response, some of these off-gas.

Prolonged contact with contaminated gear will increase your risk of inhaling the chemicals or absorbing them through the skin. To avoid that, take off your gear as soon as possible after firefighting operations. Prompt removal of gear also reduces the duration of your exposure to toxic substances, lowering your risk of developing cancers associated with them.

Always place your protective clothing away from the living and the working space. This way, the cancer-causing substances won’t contaminate those areas, thereby minimizing your and other fellow firefighters’ cancer risk.

2. Shower After Every Operation

A shower after a firefighting operation is necessary to wash off the contaminants from the body. Skipping showers means the toxins will stay in your body for long, which will increase your risk of developing cancer.

Your shower should start off cold to seal the pores and wipe away contaminants from your body. After some time, turn on the hot water faucet to get rid of the toxins that are absorbed into the body. Make sure that the water is at uncomfortable hot levels. Otherwise, it won’t open the pores.

If taking a shower isn’t possible at the fire scene, use disposable wipes to remove toxins from your hands, neck, face, and all exposed areas. Wet wipes can reduce PAHs by as much as 54%.

3. Limit Diesel Exhaust Exposures in Firehouses

Diesel exhaust makes firefighters susceptible to various health issues, including lung cancer.

Every time a diesel fire truck leaves or enters the station bay, it produces exhaust. Sealing the doors of living facilities is recommended. Otherwise, the exhaust will enter them and affect firefighters’ health. Anytime the engine is running, leave the doors of the bay open.

Also, using a diesel exhaust capturing system will minimize exposure to diesel exhaust.

To wrap things up, firefighters are at an increased risk of developing certain types of cancers due to the hazardous chemicals they are exposed to. However, you can lower your risk by following the tips mentioned above.

Additionally, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, and exercising regularly can reduce your cancer risk.

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