Report calls for urgent action on firefighter cancers

Firefighters risk their lives to save ours. But work-related cancers caused by routine toxic exposures, both at incidents and in training, could be a far bigger risk to their health, warns a report in Hazards magazine.

Sid McNally joined Essex County Fire and Rescue Service in southern England in January 1995. In 2012, when he was 48, his wife noticed a lump on his neck and insisted he go to his GP, who referred him to the hospital. The hospital took a biopsy of his neck and decided to remove the lump.

After surgery, Sid was diagnosed with cancer of the base of the tongue. The consultant asked how many cigarettes he smoked per day. He had never smoked.

Sid recovered. But not all are so lucky, and the cancer risk faced by firefighters is worryingly high. This is the conclusion of a University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) independent report, commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and described as a ‘UK first’.

UCLan’s report includes a summary of over 10,000 responses to a national survey of currently-serving firefighters run jointly with FBU. It indicates working firefighters are diagnosed with cancer at four times the expected rate, with 4.1 per cent of firefighter respondents affected. Threequarters had served for at least 10 years before receiving their diagnosis; more than half were under the age of 50 and a fifth were under 40.

Commenting on its findings, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Firefighters risk their lives every day to keep their communities safe. But it’s clear that the risk to their health doesn’t stop when the fire has been extinguished. Sadly we often see serving and former firefighters suffer from cancer and other illnesses.”

Full story: Smoking gun: Report calls for urgent action on firefighter cancers, Hazards magazine, December 2020.



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