Australian study confirms firefighter training cancer risk

Firefighters who worked at a training facility in the Australian state of Victoria have a higher incidence of skin, testicular and brain cancers, a comprehensive study has found. The study, conducted by Monash University, examined cancer and death rates linked to the Country Fire Authority’s (CFA) Fiskville site between 1971 and 1999 (Risks 565).

It found 69 cancers among the 606 people who worked and trained there, resulting in 16 deaths. Researchers found a cancer cluster in the high-risk group – those who worked full-time on the site training firefighters, and who were exposed to flammable chemicals, combustion, foams and recycled firewater. Of 95 high-risk workers traced, 25 had cancer and six had died from their cancer, the study found. A parliamentary commission of inquiry launched in December 2014 is expected to conclude in June this year.

The United Firefighters Union (UFU) Victorian branch, which had campaigned for recognition of the cancer risk to its members, welcomed the report and called for the immediate resignation of CFA chief executive Mick Bourke. UFU’s Mick Tisbury said: “He and the CFA have been denying there was anything wrong with the place for years, they have put our health and safety at risk. We’re not expendable. We have families. We are people.”

Research co-investigator Professor Malcolm Sim said: “Their death rates from other causes of disease, like heart and respiratory disease, were quite low, because these are healthy, fit people. That’s why their cancer results stood right out. There was a big gap between cancer and other diseases you don’t usually see in people like this, with healthy lifestyles.”

Monash University news release and full report. UFU Victoria notice and news release. Victorian Premier Andrew Daniels’ news release. ABC News. The Age. The Guardian. Risks 688.

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