UA researchers look at potential cancer risks to firefighters

UA begins new research on firefighter cancer
Published: Feb. 21, 2020 at 5:47 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A new study at the University of Arizona is looking at how a cancer-causing chemical found in foam and protective gear used by firefighters might contribute to their increased cancer risk.

The research takes a look at a firefighters exposure to, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of synthetic chemicals.

Dr. Jeffrey Burgess, associate dean of research at the University of Arizona, said exposure to the chemicals in the general population has been linked to cancer and other health risks. PFAS are found in upholstery, insulation and pizza boxes.

He said the study will find if a firefighter’s exposure to the chemical when it burns during a fire contributes to their increased risk for cancer. The chemical is also found in the foam used to fight fires and protective gear worn by firefighters.

"Firefighters help take care of us and it's important for us to be able to help to do the research for them to be able to keep themselves safe as well,” Burgess said.

Studies have linked PFAS to cancer, thyroid disease and immune suppression but researchers said there are no extensive studies to find the chemicals impact on firefighters.

“We don’t know very much about what hazards are associated with this class of compounds,” Shaun Beitel, a research specialist, said.

Researchers are taking blood samples from firefighters to see how much of the chemical is found in the blood and whether the level is higher after different exposures such as fighting a fire or spraying firefighter foam.

The Tucson Port Authority Fire Department is a partner in the UA research released a statement regarding the study:

The Tucson Airport Authority Fire Department is proud to take part in this groundbreaking study which focuses specifically on Aircraft Rescue Firefighters. Collaboration and partnership with the University of Arizona on this project will add to our commitment of making the health and wellness of our firefighters our number one priority.

The research project is expected to take three years and is paid for with a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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