Beyond the flames: Firefighter cancer


Decatur, Ill (WAND) – Firefighters are dying years, sometimes decades, after the fire is extinguished.  The culprit is cancer.

Firefighters are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with cancer as compared to people working in other occupations.  In Boston, a firefighter is told they have cancer once every three weeks.  Chicago and San Francisco are also seeing high rates.

Research and experts point to changes in the way buildings and homes are constructed and furnished.  At one time they were made from wood, cotton and other natural products.  Today, they are made with plastics, polymers and oil-based products which emit toxins in the air during a fire.

Firefighters across the nation are being told to take steps to reduce their cancer risk.  It includes wearing oxygen bottles throughout most of their firefighting operations, using wipes to clean off soot from their faces, necks and hands, changing protective hoods frequently and washing gear immediately when returning to the fire station.  Firefighters are also being told to shower within an hour of coming back from a fire.

Soot is a major contributor.  It often contains toxins like arsenic, asbestos, benzene and other cancer- causing substances which can be soaked in through the pores of your skin. 

Testicular cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, skin cancer, brain cancer, malignant melanoma, prostate cancer, colon cancer and leukemia are common cancers found in firefighters.

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