The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has declared that occupational exposures as a firefighter a preventable cause of human cancer.
As its findings were published online in the journal Lancet Oncology, a working group of the World Health Organisation (WHO) agency announced: “After thoroughly reviewing the available scientific literature, the Working Group classified occupational exposure as a firefighter as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), on the basis of sufficient evidence for cancer in humans.”
Welcoming the decision, Riccardo la Torre of the UK firefighters’ union FBU said: “This classification should be a huge wake-up call for both the government and fire and rescue services. government now need to urgently acknowledge that cancer is an occupational hazard within firefighting.”
He added: “They also need to be pushing ahead with urgent improvements to protect firefighters from fire contaminants by utilising the union’s ground-breaking training. We also recognise that this news will be worrying for firefighters and want to reassure all of our members that the union will fight to protect your safety at work.”
The FBU national officer said: “No one should get ill from going to work, and firefighters deserve to go home at the end of their shift as safely and healthily as they begun it.
“The FBU will continue its work in this area to protect firefighters, but we have already consistently been warning the National Fire Chiefs Council, Fire Service Employers and Ministers of this risk and so far have seen very little action from most of them. It’s now time to sit up, listen and act to protect firefighters from this life threatening occupational hazard.
“DECON interim best practice report researcher Professor Anna Stec is a member of the IARC committee and the FBU can be proud of the role our research played in this decision.”
Firefighting was last classified by IARC in 2010 as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B).
- IARC alert, news release, Q&A and infographic.
- Demers P, DeMarini D, Fent K, Glass D, Hansen J, Adetona O and others. Carcinogenicity of occupational exposure as a firefighter, Lancet Oncology, Published online 30 June 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(22)00390-4