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Minnesota firefighters face toxic exposure cancer risks

Recent research suggests that the flame retardants that Minnesota firefighters regularly come into contact with may lead to various forms of cancer.

Having been in place in many consumer products for over 40 years, flame retardants are frequently encountered by firefighters when they are on the job. Yet despite their longstanding use in a variety of products, only recently has an environmental toxicologist explored the possible impact of these flame retardants on firefighters -- who, according to the toxicologist, are twice as likely to develop testicular cancer as the general population, and 50 percent more likely to develop blood-related cancers.

Synthetic materials, which are found in most kinds of modern furniture, burn more quickly and at hotter temperatures than other products, meaning that a room can go from 60 degrees to 1,600 degrees in a matter of moments. Fire retardant chemicals used in such materials could pose a risk to firefighters, because for every five degrees warmer that a firefighter’s skin becomes, the absorption rate of the skin grows by 400 times.

Chemicals with flame retardants have also been found to be 20 times more toxic. This research could be relevant for other individuals working in hot environments like factories who may come into contact with flame retardant materials.

A new Minnesota bill under consideration may require manufacturers to be clear about which products contain flame retardants. In another possible development with regard to workers’ compensation, a Minnesota firefighter who recently filed a workers’ compensation claim after being diagnosed with cancer had it denied, based on the argument that it was not work-related; but given the toxicologist’s recent research findings, such workers’ compensation claims by firefighters may become more commonplace in the future.

Source: CBS Local, “Are flame retardants causing cancer in firefighters?,” Liz Collin, May 26, 2014

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