The World Health Organisation (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) yesterday officially declared firefighting as a cancer-causing profession, a move that has major implications for the manner in which cancer is managed for firefighters and fire services across the world.
The WHO IARC announced it was escalating the profession of firefighting from “Group 2B – possibly carcinogenic to humans” to “Group 1 – Carcinogenic to humans” as part of its “Monograph on the identification of carcinogenic hazards to humans” – an ongoing detailed study of a single specialised subject or an aspect of it.
The UFUA has advised that the WHO IARC has now confirmed beyond any doubt, that the profession of firefighting causes cancer in firefighters and that this has important implications for Australia’s governments and fire services. This confirms what firefighters, and our union has been advocating for years – firefighting causes cancer.
The WHO’s decision to now classify the professional firefighting as being “carcinogenic to humans” represents an undeniable call upon all Australian governments to introduce new measures critical in protecting firefighter health. This includes increasing the number of cancers covered by firefighter presumptive legislation from 12 to 19 to include Thyroid, Pancreatic, Skin, Cervical, Ovarian, Penile and Lung cancer.
Women are choosing to become firefighters in ever-growing numbers, so it’s particularly important that measures are put in place to protect their health early, through the addition of Cervical and Ovarian cancer to presumptive legislation protecting firefighters.
Additionally, firefighters urgently need long-term health screening and therapeutic blood donations to assist in managing their exposure to a range of dangerous toxins and PFAS. Comprehensive health screening for all firefighters throughout their career is absolutely critical in detecting the early signs of cancer and may promote early intervention, increasing the chances of survival and cure. The removal of PFAS from firefighters’ bodies via therapeutic blood donation (venesection) will also assist in reducing the incidence of cancer and is already supported by Medicare in cases of haemochromatosis.
Alex Forrest, a highly decorated and experienced captain with the Winnipeg fire department in Canada and Trustee of the International Association of Firefighters who represents firefighters at the WHO IARC meetings said the IARC Monograph was vital on monitoring the impacts of firefighting on the health of firefighters themselves.
“The IARC Monograph identifies environmental factors that are carcinogenic hazards to humans. These include chemicals, complex mixtures, occupational exposures, physical agents, biological agents, diesel particulate, shift work and lifestyle factors. National health agencies, including those in Australia, can use this information as a scientific support for their actions to prevent exposure to potential carcinogens.
While this historic Monograph is the tragic reality of our job, it’s crucially important for firefighters around the world as we now know the extent of the occupational cancer impact upon our profession.
This will lead to proper recognition for this danger around the world and this will result in better prevention, technologies, and compensation for the world’s firefighters.”
The message of the WHO IARC announcement on cancer in both professional and volunteer firefighters, for Australia’s governments and fire services could not be clearer. While much has been achieved in the area of presumptive legislation to compensate firefighters who succumbed to specific cancers, the sad reality is that due to the increasingly complex and toxic nature of the materials used to manufacture goods, buildings and vehicles, the incidence of cancer among firefighters is increasing not decreasing.
Governments must do more to protect firefighters’ health, including the expansion of cancers covered by presumptive legislation from 12 to 19, the introduction of long-term health screening for firefighters, government support for firefighter health studies and the approval of therapeutic blood donation so that firefighters can reduce the concentrations of PFAS in their blood.
Australia’s firefighters urgently call on all Australian governments and fire services to take these important steps to protect firefighter health.
In SA, our union continues to vigorously pursue the rehabilitation and compensation claims under the presumptive legislation of the many members and retired members who have been so negatively affected by cancer. In addition, the proposal to incorporate recognition of the additional seven cancers (Thyroid, Pancreatic, Skin, Cervical, Ovarian, Penile and Lung) in the SA legislation has been raised with the state government and will continue to be pursued to successful resolution for all members.
Importantly, our Safety and Resourcing Campaign has achieved recognition from the state government of the health concerns relating to the exposure of UFU members to diesel particulates. This includes funding for a trial of initiatives in the MFS to reduce the risk at stations and the engineering department, which will be oversighted by our union at the WHS Committee.
We hope and expect that MFS management will now work with our union representatives and recognise and responsibly apply the science in the interests of promoting and protecting the long- term health and safety of firefighters from recruits to retirees.
You can access more info from The Lancet article re the above WHO Monograph here.