US firefighters are more at risk for cancer than the general population, according to union research forming part of a high profile campaign for fairer compensation laws and prevention measures.
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) report says the risk is “significantly higher for firefighters than the general population” because when fighting fires they are apt to come into contact with synthetic materials such as plastics, foam and coatings that contain carcinogens. The report cites a 2013 study by the US government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that found firefighters have a 14 per cent increased risk of dying from cancer when compared with the general population.
“Our communities and their legislators need to understand how PTSD and cancer are impacting their firefighters over the course of a long and dedicated career protecting the public,” IAFF president Harold Schaitberger said in a statement. “New advanced protocols are needed to help prevent PTSD and cancer from taking hold, and more elected officials need to step up and support laws that help firefighters afflicted with these hidden hazards.”
The IAFF has run a highly successful campaign for state-based presumptive legislation for firefighters who contract cancer, meaning in most instances firefighters developing a related cancer qualify for compensation automatically. In April, Idaho became the 34th state to introduce these presumptive protections. The union has also developed occupational cancer prevention resources.
The study also found firefighters were at a much greater risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).