Firefighters battle cancer after the flames

By KBJR News 1

May 30, 2014 Updated May 30, 2014 at 7:25 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) -- A ground–breaking study has found that while firefighters are battling flames to protect others, they may be setting themselves up for a battle against cancer.

Dr. Susan Shaw, from the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at State University in Albany New York, found elevated levels of cancer–causing dioxins in the blood of California fire fighters.

Her study is considered the most extensive exposure assessment in fire fighters to date.

The disease is the cause of about 56 percent of all line of duty deaths among fire fighters.

"Fires are much more toxic today than they ever have been and you have to ask the question why?" said Dr. Shaw.

The answer, as researchers are finding out, are all of the chemicals in flame retardants that are on virtually everything around us from couch cushions to electronics.

Researchers say the detriments of flame retardants may actually out way the benefits.

"You gain only a few seconds, in fact, three seconds of escape time; where as, you are looking at decades of toxicity," said Shaw.

The residue from fires is on firefighters long after they take off the uniform.

"You get to a fire and you come back and every time you take a shower you can smell it and you can wash it a few times but it's there. The smell is more than just a smell, it's those chemicals," said Pete Johnson, President of the Duluth Professional Fire Fighters.

Johnson hopes the study will help bring about change in the state when it comes to protecting fire fighters.

"State laws are really weak, and a lot of fire fighters who do get cancer and try to get it as a job related illness get turned down. In the future it's something we would like to work on to make those laws better, to protect those men and women fire fighters around the state."

Fire fighters are more susceptible to getting testicular and prostate cancer, and non–hodgkin's lymphoma.

Posted to the web by Kati Anderson.