Making a Difference in Cancer Prevention and Control
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Fighting for their lives after saving ours
The story of cancer amongst Europe's firefighters
On March 3 2015, the MEPs against Cancer (MAC), along with the European Fire Fighter Unions Alliance (EFFUA), Fire Safe Europe (FSEU) and the Association of European Cancer Leagues (ECL) organised at the European Parliament a meeting on how fire fighting is becoming cancer fighting.
Recent research unveils that fire fighters present much higher cancer rates than the general public due to their repeated exposure to toxic smoke effluents, which enter their bodies through their airways, eyes and skin. This is why cancer represents nowadays the greatest fear and the deadliest threat for fire fighters in Europe and worldwide. Nevertheless, EU regulations on fire safety in buildings overlook smoke toxicity, thus leaving Europe's fire fighters alone on the frontline against cancer.
The meeting highlighted scientific evidence on the correlation between high cancer rates among fire fighters and their long-term occupational exposure to carcinogens, with insights from researchers and fire fighters as well as a testimony from a patient, Anders Cederberg, Fire officer in Stockholm Sweden and former Vice President in the Confederation of Swedish Fire Fighters(BRF). The event also addressed possible solutions, taking into account experiences and lessons from overseas and defining the actions MEPs could take to guarantee European fire fighters a safe working environment.
Several studies were made and showed that chemicals penetrate through the firefighters' outfits. There are various exposures: smoke, aerosols, particles, ashes, etc. which penetrates via the lungs or via the skin. However, the exposure is variable so it is difficult to study. The most common cancers among firefighters are prostate cancer, malignant melanoma and skin cancers (due to chemicals on skin).
"We chose this profession to save lives, but as a result of toxic chemicals we end up fighting for our own. I'm tired of going to the funerals of colleagues who have died too young as a result of cancer," said EFFUA International Secretary Mikael Svanberg.
Alex Forrest, Canadian Trustee, International Association of Fire Fighters, said that a recent study by Monash University in Melbourne had found overall cancer rates were elevated among Australian fire fighters compared to the general public. "This is a concern that impacts fire fighters all over the world. It is not one fire that is killing us, it is the hundreds we are exposed to during our career," he said. "The issue of occupational exposure to these deadly chemicals needs to be addressed now."
Several MEPS attended the meeting like MEP Pavel Poc, MEP Charles Tannock, MEP Nessa Childers and MEP Cristel Schaldemose and all mentioned the importance of the firefigthers' issues and agreed it was time to take action both on EU level and Member States level.
EFFUA is now calling on the European Union to introduce tough new smoke toxicity regulations for construction materials, funding for further studies into the issue of fire fighters and work-related cancer and extra resources to improve health training for fire fighters.