21 Mar 2024

FBU funded Grenfell study shows firefighters are at increased risk of cancer


“What scares me the most is firefighter cancer rates will continue to rise and these numbers are likely conservative in nature due to the healthy worker effect”

Research commissioned by the UK Fire Brigades Union is currently underway at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), Preston, UK, examining the impact of firefighting on firefighters' health following their involvement in the emergency response to the Grenfell Tower disaster in London in June 2017. 

This is based on the Fire Brigade Union funded research found here. An article based on this was published  in an article in the medical journal The Lancet. 

Media reports have indicated that several firefighters who battled the Grenfell fire have since been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

This research initiative follows the publication on January 10, 2023, of five separate studies, all commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and conducted by researchers at UCLan, focusing on the occupational health risks faced by firefighters in the UK. Four of these studies revealed the presence of carcinogens in firefighting environments, with over 4% of surveyed serving firefighters having already been diagnosed with cancer. 

Additionally, evidence showed that individuals were at least twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer if they had noticed soot in their nose or throat, or if they remained in their personal protective equipment for longer than 4 hours after attending fire incidents.

The fifth study examined cancer mortality in Scottish firefighters, yielding findings relevant to firefighters in the UK, where similar conditions and operational procedures are in place. Among other health issues, the study revealed a significant excess of mortality due to prostate and esophageal cancers, myeloid leukemia, and neoplasms of unknown behavior. 

The firefighters' mortality rate from all cancers was 1.6 times higher than that of the general population. Anna Stec, the lead researcher at UCLan, stressed the urgency of recognizing cancer as an occupational disease in UK firefighters, advocating for regular preventative health monitoring and greater legal support for affected individuals.

Despite long standing awareness of the link between fire contaminants and cancer, little has been done to adequately protect firefighters. Riccardo la Torre, National Officer of the Fire Brigades Union, called for increased action on prevention, health monitoring, and proper provision of personal protective equipment and workwear cleaning. He urged government officials and fire service leaders to address this pressing issue without delay.

The occupational risk of carcinogen exposure is not unique to UK firefighting, as evidenced by data from other international incidents. US firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, were found to be 13% more likely to develop cancer than their non-involved colleagues. 

Alex Forrest, representing the International Association of Fire Fighters in Ottawa, Canada, emphasized the urgent need for proper recognition and support for firefighters affected by occupational cancer, urging governments to prioritize their health and well-being.

Forrest highlighted the International Agency for Research on Cancer's reclassification of firefighter workplace exposure as a Group 1 carcinogen, emphasizing the severity of the risk. He warned that without urgent action, firefighter cancer rates are likely to continue rising, underscoring the importance of protecting those who serve and protect our communities.

“What scares me the most is firefighter cancer rates will continue to rise and these numbers are likely conservative in nature due to the healthy worker effect,” Forrest said to the Lancet. 

“Urgent action must be taken to protect those who protect our communities.”


Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons License

Fire Brigades Union (FBU) 1991 Carmichael Volvo FL6 14 Intercooler

Date: 26 January 2014, 17:09

Source: City of Westminster, London - UK

Author: Mic from Reading - Berkshire, United Kingdom