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Firefighters significantly more likely to die from cancer, heart attacks and strokes

FIREFIGHTERS are more likely to die from cancer, heart attacks and strokes than the general public, warns a groundbreaking study published today.

Their mortality rate from all cancers is a shocking 1.6 times higher than the rest of the population, according to the research, conducted by the University of Central Lancashire for the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

The workers are also five times more likely to die from a heart attack and three times more susceptible to strokes, the paper says. 

Firefighters’ greater exposure to contaminants and fire toxins are almost certainly the cause, the union argued.

Professor Anna Stec, who led the research, said: “This is the first study of its kind in the UK and the research brings to light the wide range of occupational hazards that firefighters face.

“It’s important that firefighters can continue to do their jobs as safely as possible, and the research shows that measures such as health monitoring and reducing exposure from contaminants at the workplace are important.”

The study was based on mortality records from the National Records of Scotland, but the FBU stressed that the results were relevant to the rest of Britain due to “operational procedures being consistent across the whole of the country.”

Death rates from leukaemia — 3.17 times higher in firefighters — are likely to be linked to exposure to chemicals such as benzene from contact with skin or inhalation, the union noted. 

And cancers of the oesophagus and digestive organs — 2.42 times greater across the workforce — suggest a “potentially significant contribution from ingestion, which may occur when firefighters swallow mucus in which fire effluent has become trapped or if they have eaten food with contaminated hands,” it added. 

“This is a study that should horrify fire services and the government,” FBU national officer Riccardo la Torre said. 

“This is about firefighters dying who did not need to. We know that there are clear ways we can make things better for firefighters.

“We need health surveillance. We need monitoring of exposures. We need legislation that will ensure that affected firefighters are given the compensation they deserve.

“At the moment, we are sorely lacking in all of these areas. It is high time that ends. We cannot lose any more firefighters unnecessarily.”

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