NIOSH Study Reinforces Link Between Fire Fighting and Cancer
October 17, 2013 – A new study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on mortality and cancer incidence in career fire fighters shows an elevated risk of several types of cancer - and of all cancers combined - compared to the general U.S. population.
The just-released study, published in the Occupational & Environmental Medicine, is among the largest examining cancer risk in career fire fighters, with a study population of 30,000 fire fighters from IAFF locals in Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco.
The study identified higher incidence rates of cancers of the respiratory, digestive and urinary systems, which suggest that fire fighters are more likely to develop these cancers compared to the general U.S. population. The incidence rate of mesothelioma was two times greater among fire fighters compared to the general population, indicating likely occupational exposures to asbestos, the known cause of mesothelioma.
These findings are consistent with previous, smaller studies assessing the cancer risk in fire fighters. The large study population and follow up for the NIOSH study strengthen the evidence for the relationship between fire fighting and cancer, and provides further support for the IAFF position that fire fighters are at increased risk of cancer due to occupational exposures to carcinogens. The data also supports the ongoing need for cancer presumptive legislation, which entitles fire fighters diagnosed with certain cancers to disability retirement benefits and workers compensation benefits.
This study will serve as a foundation for ongoing analyses of fire fighter cancer risks. The next phase of the study will look at employment histories to learn more about the relationship between occupational exposures and cancer risk.
Fire fighters can be exposed to carcinogens during fire suppression, overhaul activities and in the firehouse. Occupational carcinogens include diesel exhaust, benzene, formaldehyde, asbestos and various combustion byproducts found in smoke. Exposures can occur through inhalation of smoke or diesel exhaust, and skin exposure can occur through contaminated personal protective equipment and turnout gear.
To reduce your overall risk of exposure:
Shower after returning from a fire
Use SCBA during overhaul activities
Perform gross field decontamination of PPE to remove as much soot and particulates as possible
Clean your PPE (i.e., gloves, hood and helmet) after a fire
Store PPE in dedicated storage areas and not in living quarters
For more information about cancer presumptive legislation efforts, click here.
The authors of the study presented preliminary results at the 2013 IAFF John P. Redmond Symposium/Barbara Symposium in Denver, Colorado. To view the presentation, click here.
This important work by NIOSH is another example of its efforts to improve the safety and health of fire fighters. These efforts, along with the efforts of the Fallen Fire Fighter Investigation and Prevention Program and the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, warrant the full support of the IAFF.
The 31st IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial service will be broadcast live via streaming video on Saturday, September 16. The ceremony in Colorado Springs, Colorado, officially begins at 11:00 a.m. Mountain Time.
At this year's memorial service, the IAFF will add 195 fallen fire fighters from the United States and Canada to the Wall of Honor.
The Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial, located in the shadow of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, honors the sacrifice made by IAFF members who have given their lives in the line of duty.
The annual ceremony remains an uplifting service for the families, friends and loved ones, celebrating the lives, heroism and accomplishments of our union's bravest of the brave.
In order to help IAFF members better understand the effects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the IAFF has developed this "What You Need to Know About the Affordable Care Act" online information resource about the law and what it means for IAFF members.
This new resource includes:
• An overview of the Affordable Care Act • Answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) • An educational video about the Affordable Care Act • Strategies for negotiating health care coverage • Links to both government and industry sources
The IAFF opposes mandatory Social Security coverage for non-covered public sector employees.
When the Social Security system was created in 1935, government employees were expressly excluded. Even when state and local governments were given the option to join the system in the 1950s, many fire departments were still legally barred from electing Social Security coverage until 1994. Because of this long exclusion from the Social Security system, local governments created pension systems for fire fighters to address their retirement needs without Social Security. An estimated 70 percent of all fire fighters are covered by pension plans that are independent of Social Security. These comprehensive plans are tailored to meet the unique needs of fire fighters by taking into consideration the early retirement ages and high rates of disability retirement that are characteristic of public safety occupations.
Throughout the1980s and 90s, Congress considered various proposals to bring all public sector workers into the Social Security system, but decided each time to maintain the current practice of allowing public employees the option to join Social Security or retain their separate pension systems.
Recently, the issue has been resurrected as a way to generate additional revenue for the Social Security Trust Fund. In 2010, two separate national commissions on reducing the deficit included identical proposals in their recommendations to bring all newly hired public employees into Social Security beginning in the year 2020.
While the need for additional revenue is the primary reason for bringing all public employees into Social Security, proponents make two additional arguments. First, they contend that most non-covered public employees qualify for Social Security benefits, either from a second job or a spouse. They argue that workers who receive Social Security benefits should be required to pay into the system throughout their career.
A second, more recent, argument contends that public pension plans are unstable, and Social Security coverage would provide public employees with retirement income if their pension plan went bankrupt.
Opponents of mandatory coverage believe that forcing all public employees into Social Security—even if it is only new hires—would undermine existing pension systems that provide superior benefits and reflect the unique circumstances of public safety work. They argue further that the overwhelming majority of public pensions are on sound financial footing, and rumors about plans going bankrupt are not supported by the facts.
Opponents also note that any influx of funding to the Social Security Trust Fund would have a negligible and temporary impact on the Fund’s long-term solvency. Moreover, Congress already fully addressed concerns about people receiving benefits without paying in their fair share. The Social Security benefits of people who also receive a pension from non-Social Security covered employment are significantly reduced.
Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) are preparing to introduce legislation that will implement the recommendations of the Deficit Commission. Among those recommendations is a proposal to bring all newly hired public employees into Social Security. Specific details of the Warner legislation are still being developed at this time.