Of fires, 'fluff' and fatal illness
Many of the brave volunteer firefighters from Hometown who battled blazes on the fluff piles -- without any special equipment at all, not even protective masks -- went on to suffer from respiratory problems. And at least some men who battled those fires were later diagnosed with cancer.
I thought of the Hometown firefighters today when I came across a new study from the University of Cincinnati that found firefighters face an increased risk of certain cancers. The study by researchers Grace LeMasters, Ash Genaidy and James Lockey appears in this month's issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The study found that firefighters are twice as likely to develop testicular cancer and have significantly higher rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and prostate cancer than non-firefighters. It also confirmed previous findings that firefighters are at greater risk for multiple myeloma.
"We believe there's a direct correlation between the chemical exposures firefighters experience on the job and their increased risk for cancer," says LeMasters, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UC. "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."
Even when they're not working at toxic waste dumps like EDM, firefighters are exposed to many compounds designated as carcinogens, including benzene, diesel engine exhaust, chloroform, soot, styrene and formaldehyde. The firefighters can inhale the substances or absorb them through the skin.
"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," says Lockey, a professor of environmental health and pulmonary medicine at UC. "In addition, firefighters should meticulously wash their entire body to remove soot and other residues from fires to avoid skin exposure."