Firefighters face cancer risk from contaminated clothing
Research has found that firefighters face a high cancer risk due to contaminated clothing and equipment.
The UK’s chief fire officer, Chris Davies, has admitted that there is a high rate of cancer among firefighters compared to workers in other sectors. The Fire Brigades Union has demanded that the government takes action to protect firefighters. The Home Office has responded by setting up a board to look at ways to protect the health of firefighters.
Toxicity and fire chemistry expert Professor Anna Stec said:
"In my opinion, there is a direct link between firefighters' occupation and cancer. Firefighters are twice as likely to die when compared to the general population - and they're dying from not one type of cancer, but they've got multiple types.”
Research by Professor Stec and her colleagues at the University of Central Lancaster found that there was a cancer risk from dangerous levels of harmful chemicals on firefighter’s protective workwear after being exposed to smoke. These chemicals are absorbed into the skin which is increased by sweating and dehydration caused by high temperatures when fighting fires.
The researchers also found that protective workwear was not effectively cleaned after use, leaving the clothing still contaminated when used again.
This case highlights that protective workwear needs to be cleaned thoroughly after being worn in hazardous conditions. Clothing needs to be made of materials that do not allow chemicals to pass through to the skin, where they can be a health risk.