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Hidden chemicals put firefighters at risk of cancer

In some ways, being a firefighter is more dangerous today than ever before. Flame retardant chemicals in modern carpets and furniture delay the start of a fire, which can help people escape before they are trapped by the flames. However, once the fire does start and firefighters rush in, they can get exposed to the chemicals through their skin.

This exposure seems to be behind the rise in firefighters being diagnosed with cancer. One environmental toxicologist said that 56 of line-of-duty deaths among firefighters are from cancer, a figure she called "astronomical."

She believes that exposure to chemicals at fires doubles male firefighters' chances of developing testicular cancer. Firefighters are also 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with various forms of blood cancer.

Her studies indicate that the combination of heat and flame retardant chemicals in the smoke are to blame. For every five degrees your skin heats up, say by being near a fire, the skin's absorption rate increases 400 times. Being covered in soot after dousing a fire should be more of a health concern than a badge of honor, she said.

Many firefighters in her home state have personal experience with cancer. One is battling non-Hodgkins B-cell lymphoma despite no family history of cancer. Another veteran firefighter has had three skin cancers in the past five years.

A worker does not necessarily have to get caught in an accident to get killed by their job, as this post shows. Exposure to toxic substances can lead to deadly illnesses down the road.

Source: WCCO-TV, "Are Flame Retardants Causing Cancer In Firefighters?" Liz Collin, May 26, 2014

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