Various studies have shown an increased incident of cancer among firefighters, including studies by Grace LeMasters, NIOSH, and the Nordic study. They have shown firefighters have an increased risk of developing cancer, compared to the general population. This includes 102% greater risk of testicular cancer, 53% greater risk of multiple myeloma, 51% greater risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, 39% greater risk of skin cancer, 28% greater risk of prostate cancer, 32% greater risk of malignant melanoma, 32% greater risk of brain cancer, 29% greater risk of rectal cancer, 22% greater risk of stomach cancer, and 21% greater risk of colon cancer.
Now, groundbreaking research by the University of Ottawa shows firefighters had from three to more than five times the amount of toxic chemicals in their urine after a fire compared to before a fire. And, crucially, the study suggests the chemicals entered their bodies mainly through skin contact.
In trying to ascertain if the carcinogens were entering the body through the lungs or the skin, the researchers looked at a compound call Clara Cell 16 (CC16) in urine. Senior author of the study Jennifer Keir says this compound is indicative of lung injury. When they found no changes in these concentrations, this was their first clue that the toxins are not entering through the lungs. If they were, they would have noted lung damage. The next clue was that as the amount of PAHs on skin increased, so did the amount of PAH metabolites in urine. This lead them to conclude it’s more dermal absorption than lung absorption.
These findings are critical as it further supports the conclusions and recommendations of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network in their 2013 paper “Taking Action Against Cancer in the Fire Service.” One of the 11 steps to protect firefighters is to use dermal wipes to remove as much soot as possible from the head, neck, jaw, throat, underarms, and hands while still on-scene.