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Study: Firefighters can be exposed to cancer-causing PAHs

| Sep 11, 2020 | Workers' Compensation

Previous research has shown that firefighters face an increased risk of cancer and other health problems, but it hasn’t been clear what they are being exposed to.

Now, a study led by Oregon State University has found that on-duty firefighters experience higher exposures to polycuclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are thought to cause cancer. The study also found a new group of 18 PAHs that had not been previously reported in firefighting.

PAHs are any of a group of compounds containing carbon and other elements. They are found in fossil fuels and also form naturally after virtually any type of combustion, including the combustion of wood and even tobacco. Unfortunately, PAHs are also present in some protective gear and cleaning products that firefighters may use.

For the study, a group of firefighters wore passive sampling equipment in the form of military-style dog tags made of silicone. These dog tags were made of the same material as a patented silicone wristband that OSU has been using to measure chemical exposures. The silicone tags absorb chemicals from the skin and air and are thought to be a reliable sampling technology for assessing chemical exposures.

If firefighters are being exposed to PAHs, they have an increased risk of developing lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer. This is on top of the many other hazards firefighters are exposed to in the course of their duties.

Is cancer covered by workers’ compensation?

Yes. If your cancer can be linked to toxic exposures at work, you may have a valid workers’ comp claim. However, there is some chance your employer or their workers’ comp insurer will attempt to deny your claim. The major issue will be whether you developed cancer as a result of workplace activities. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you prove your claim or appeal a denied claim.