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Why Cancer Is the Number One Killer of Firefighters

It’s not the flames or even the smoke. It’s the toxins that escape during a fire that are causing high cancer rates among the nation’s firefighters.

Joseph Finn, the fire commissioner and head of the Boston Fire Department, said the increasing cancer danger is because of the plastics that are so commonly found now in most structures, as well as the fire retardants used on furniture and other things found in homes and offices.

“Almost everything in modern buildings today is made of processed plastic. And it burns very hot and fast and gives off more carcinogenic by-product than traditional fires did in years gone by,” Finn told Healthline.

This has led to a national and global cancer crisis among firefighters, he said.

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Commissioner Finn at the scene of a fire in Boston. He says smoke from fires is more toxic today because of processed plastic.

“Most people don’t know that cancer has been the number one cause of deaths among firefighters in the United States for the past 12 years,” Finn said.

“Every fire, whether it’s a car fire, or a room, or a pot on the stove — all of those give off carcinogens. We urge firefighters to be aware of this,” he added.

He noted that these toxins don’t just enter the body via inhalation.

“It can come right through the skin,” he said.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Ottawa (Université d’Ottawa) confirmed that firefighters absorb harmful chemicals, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), through their skin.

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