What do cigarettes, car exhaust, tire-manufacturing plants, and burning buildings all have in common? In addition to smelling awful, the fumes they all emit contain benzene, a common industry chemical that scientists are increasingly implicating as a cause of leukemia and other deadly diseases.
It has long been known that individuals working in factories that use or produce benzene have a high risk of acquiring terminal diseases, but a recent study at the University of Cincinnati reveals a new group of uniformed men and women whose exposure to cancer-causing toxins rivals that of gas station attendants, plastic producers, and detergent manufacturers-our childhood heroes, the firefighters.
An interdisciplinary team of medical researchers at the University of Cincinnati compared cancer rates of firefighters to those of workers in other fields. This review of 32 studies revealed that there are 100% more cases of testicular cancer and 50% more cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma among firefighters than among employees of other industries, and the soot, formaldehyde, benzene, and other cancer-causing chemicals found in burning buildings are to blame.
The Nashville Fire Department, alone, employs over 1000 personnel, the majority of whom regularly take in these toxins through their skin and lungs. The results of the Cincinnati study make it clear that many of these hundreds of local workers are at risk of developing painful illnesses with poor prognoses.
It is thus imperative that our local and national fire departments develop protective equipment to minimize their employees’ contact with benzene and other harmful chemicals. By doing so, they will not only minimize the possibility of facing a workers’ compensation lawsuit, but avoid the guilt that comes along with passively promoting life-threatening conditions.
Firefighters must play a role in protecting their own health, as well; in addition to washing their skin and uniforms thoroughly and regularly, it may be up to the men and women who put themselves in the line of fire to hold their employers to the highest safety standards possible.