“There are many types of cancer among firefighters,” said Dr. Jooyeon Hwang, associate professor of environmental sciences at the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, referring to the level of risk they face from exposing to carcinogens in the workplace.
Among younger firefighters compared to general public in the United States, skin cancer is up to five to six times higher than in general population, said Dr. Hwang.
During firefighting there are many types of smoke, she said, while explaining that “when the smoke is dark or grey, many carcinogens or mutagens (chemical or physical agent that has the ability to change the genetic code in a harmful way) come from residues,” she stressed. According to the US Fire Administration, firefighters have a higher risk of developing malignant tumors and dying from them than the general population because they also come into contact with polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs).
PFASs are slow degrading chemicals that have earned the name ‘chemical forever’, as they can be found in firefighters’ blood, equipment and even foam.
Data from the Firefighter Cancer Support Network (active in the United States and Canada) confirms that 66% of on-duty deaths of professional firefighters between 2002 and 2019 were caused by cancer.
These workers also have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general population.