Lyon, France – The World Health Organization has reclassified firefighting as a carcinogenic profession.
The organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer recently brought together a panel of 25 scientists from eight countries. They reviewed 52 cohort and case-control studies, 12 case reports and seven meta-analyses before elevating the profession of firefighter to an IARC Group 1 designation, meaning it is carcinogenic to humans. . Previous IARC classifications considered it possible that firefighters could develop cancer.
The panel concluded that firefighters around the world are exposed to a range of carcinogenic toxins at work, and that there is “sufficient evidence” that they are at increased risk of bladder cancer and mesothelioma, which affects the tissues that line the lungs and other organs. . Additionally, “limited evidence” links firefighters to an elevated risk of colon, prostate and testicular cancer, as well as skin cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Occupational exposures of firefighters can arise from a variety of hazards, including fires (natural and structural) and non-fire events (vehicle accidents, hazardous material releases, and medical incidents), as well as combustion products ( particles from fires), building materials (asbestos), chemicals in fire-fighting foams (per- and polyfluoroalkyls, or PFAS – also called “eternal chemicals” because they slowly break down over weather), radiation and diesel exhaust.
Additionally, limitations in the fit, design, maintenance, and decontamination of personal protective equipment may contribute to exposures.
In a report released by the University of Miami, panelist Alberto Caban-Martinez, deputy director of the Firefighter Cancer Initiative at the UM Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, said designating the profession as a carcinogen could lead to more funding and regulation. aimed at protecting firefighters, as well as helping people diagnosed with cancer.
Erin Kobetz, Director of the UM Initiative, added, “The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that firefighting is associated with an increased risk of cancer, and this finding ensures that first responders won’t have to push for gaining a disability and other benefits associated with a cancer diagnosis.”
The group’s findings were published in the journal The Lancet Oncology.