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Fires and Cancer are twin dangers

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“As the Philippines enter the Fire prevention month, fires may not be the only enemy our firefighters are facing as other hidden dangers lurks,” said Noel Colina, Executive Director of the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD), a non-profit and non-governmental health and safety organization.

According to Colina, a study of 110,000 firefighters done by the University of Cincinnati released in the November , 2006 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine determined that firefighters had greater risk of getting cancer - including testicular, prostate, skin, brain, rectum, stomach and colon cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma and malignant melanoma - compared to the normal population.

This was further affirmed in October, 2007 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as it classified occupational exposure as firefighter as Class 2B carcinogen or “possibly carcinogenic to human”. According to the IARC, firefighters are often exposed to toxic combustion products, including benzene and formaldehyde, which are released during fires.

“The study tells us that toxic compounds, aside from being released into the air, can also accumulate on the clothing and equipment of firefighters, which can cause elevated risks of of testicular cancer, prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” stated Colina.

To address this issue, the The International Myeloma Foundation has released a firefighters guideline to reduced the risks:

1) Firefighters should have their turnouts professionally cleaned routinely, and to avoid wearing or storing their turnouts in fire station living areas

2) Firefighters should shower as soon as they return from each fire to remove the soot and ash

3) Fire departments review and update guidelines for use of personal protective equipment (PPE)

4) It is advisable for departments to equip fire engines with exhaust removal systems; if not available, avoid idling the engines indoors without adequate ventilation

“Based on December 2005 records, the BFP has 14,995 personnel nationwide. The government, through its appropriate agency, should inform and educate firefighters of the risk they face. The Occupational Health and Safety Center (OHSC) should also regularly monitor the working environment of our firefighters. Cancer surveillance, not only among regular but also among volunteer firefighter, should also be stepped-up,” ended Colina.