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“Life-saving” cancer monitoring study enacted for UK firefighters

28 February 2023

“LIFE-SAVING” firefighter cancer and health monitoring has now begun with the first samples carried out in Tyne and Wear as part of a ground-breaking UK-wide research project commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). The research is being conducted by the University of Central Lancashire and led by world experts in the fields of fire chemistry and toxicology.

Participating firefighters are volunteering to provide blood and urine samples to be analysed, with the first samples having already been taken. The results will be used to identify the number of firefighters with occupational cancers and other diseases resulting from exposure to toxic contaminants in fire.  

This development follows on from the publication of new research in January, which found that instances of cancer among firefighters aged between 35 and 39 is up to 323% higher than for members of the general population in the same age category.

The research also found that firefighters are significantly more likely to die from cancer, heart attacks, stroke and several other diseases.

The new research study is the first of its kind to be carried out for firefighters here in the UK, despite the World Health Organisation ruling that occupational exposure as a firefighter is carcinogenic.

Positive example

Riccardo la Torre, national officer at the FBU, said: “I’m proud of our members within the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service for participating in the first firefighter health monitoring study of its kind in the UK, and also in our Trade Union for commissioning this research. Tyne and Wear is setting a positive example for how Fire and Rescue Services can assist in making real steps forward to save firefighters’ lives from occupational cancer and diseases.”

He continued: “Health monitoring must be rolled out across the UK as a vital part of serious measures designed to make firefighting a safer profession. No-one should face illness, or worse, as a result of simply going to work. We can and must be the generation to make this profession a safer one.”

Range of occupational hazards

Anna Stec, professor in fire chemistry and toxicity at the University of Central Lancashire, responded: “This is the first study of its kind in the UK. Further, the research brings to light the wide range of occupational hazards that firefighters face on a daily basis. It’s vital that firefighters can continue to do their jobs as safely as possible. The research shows that measures such as health monitoring and reducing exposure to contaminants in the workplace will play an important part in protecting firefighters.”

Stec concluded: “We hope that working with organisations like the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service will not only help us to create a safer working environment in Tyne and Wear, but will also introduce a positive change across the wider sector.”

Wayne Anderson, FBU Secretary for the Tyne and Wear region, noted: “This is a vital step forward for the Fire and Rescue sector, and we are pleased that the Fire and Rescue Service in the region is working with us to make this research a priority. The evidence shows that firefighters’ health is at risk because of exposure to toxic contaminants in fire. We need to continually challenge and improve our preventative and protective measures for all firefighters in order to save lives.”