NIOSH Study Reinforces Link Between Fire Fighting and Cancer
October 17, 2013 – A new study conducted by the National
Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on mortality and cancer
incidence in career fire fighters shows an elevated risk of several types of
cancer - and of all cancers combined - compared to the general U.S. population.
The just-released study, published in the Occupational & Environmental
Medicine, is among the largest examining cancer risk in career
fire fighters, with a study population of 30,000 fire fighters from IAFF locals
in Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco.
The study identified higher incidence rates of cancers of
the respiratory, digestive and urinary systems, which suggest that fire fighters
are more likely to develop these cancers compared to the general U.S.
population. The incidence rate of mesothelioma was two times greater among fire
fighters compared to the general population, indicating likely occupational
exposures to asbestos, the known cause of mesothelioma.
These findings are consistent with previous, smaller
studies assessing the cancer risk in fire fighters. The large study population
and follow up for the NIOSH study strengthen the evidence for the relationship
between fire fighting and cancer, and provides further support for the IAFF
position that fire fighters are at increased risk of cancer due to occupational
exposures to carcinogens. The data also supports the ongoing need for cancer
presumptive legislation, which entitles fire fighters diagnosed with certain
cancers to disability retirement benefits and workers compensation benefits.
This study will serve as a foundation for ongoing analyses
of fire fighter cancer risks. The next phase of the study will look at
employment histories to learn more about the relationship between occupational
exposures and cancer risk.
Fire fighters can be exposed to carcinogens during fire
suppression, overhaul activities and in the firehouse. Occupational carcinogens
include diesel exhaust, benzene, formaldehyde, asbestos and various combustion
byproducts found in smoke. Exposures can occur through inhalation of smoke or
diesel exhaust, and skin exposure can occur through contaminated personal
protective equipment and turnout gear.
To reduce your overall risk of exposure:
Shower after returning from a fire
Use SCBA during overhaul activities
Perform gross field decontamination of PPE to remove as
much soot and particulates as possible
Clean your PPE (i.e., gloves, hood and helmet) after a
Store PPE in dedicated storage areas and not in living
For more information about cancer presumptive legislation
The authors of the study presented preliminary results at the 2013 IAFF John P.
Redmond Symposium/Barbara Symposium in Denver, Colorado. To view the
presentation, click here.
This important work by NIOSH is another example of its efforts to improve the
safety and health of fire fighters. These efforts, along with the efforts of the
Fallen Fire Fighter Investigation and Prevention Program and the National
Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, warrant the full support of the IAFF.