Thursday, April 3, 2014

Toxic chemicals a concern for firefighters

Toxic substances released by fires can linger on uniforms
and equipment, leading to high exposure levels.
More than 200 empty pairs of firefighter boots recently lined the steps of the Rotunda in San Francisco's City Hall.

Each pair represented a local firefighter who lost his or her life "with their boots off" due to cancer in the last 14 years, said Tony Stefani, president of the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation.

"In just the last three months, we've had two active and four retired firefighters die of cancer," said Stefani, a retired San Francisco Fire Dept. captain and cancer survivor, in an interview before the event.

The display is one of at least 15 "Give Toxics the Boot" events around the country this week. From Spokane, Wash., to Augusta, Maine, firefighters are calling for stricter regulations on flame retardants and other toxic chemicals they say are causing cancer and other diseases among their ranks.

"We take every precaution we can to minimize our exposure and risk, yet we're still being exposed to these chemicals on a daily basis," said Emmett McNamee, a 20-year veteran Spokane firefighter. "And these are bio-accumulative. They build up in our systems."

Public health advocates are standing alongside firefighters in the heated battle.

"Our first responders and firefighters are disproportionately exposed and affected by the chemicals that are in our homes," said Lindsay Dahl, deputy director for the non-profit Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, one of the organizations participating in the campaign.

"They serve, just like pregnant women and children, as canaries in the coal mine for the health effects we're seeing from chemicals we're exposed to every day."

To fight a fire means confronting a toxic soup of burning chemicals and their byproducts, including dioxins, furans and formaldehyde.

Many of the most toxic fumes released by today's fires actually come from chemicals added to everything from clothes to couches to computers in an effort to retard flames.

But, as an investigation by the Chicago Tribune uncovered, those additives may offer no meaningful fire protection.

A firefighter's exposure to chemicals can continue long after the blaze is out. Chemicals may linger on the skin, uniform, respirator, helmet and other gear. And if a firefighter wears any of that stuff home, their family may be exposed as well.

Scientists recently tested the blood of 12 California firefighters immediately after they responded to an alarm.

The results, published in June, showed significantly greater concentrations of flame retardants and other modern household chemicals in the firefighters compared with average Americans. Levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, one common flame retardant, were three times higher in the firefighters' blood.

A separate study, published in October by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, evaluated the health of nearly 30,000 career firefighters in San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Researchers found higher rates of prostate cancer, kidney cancer, multiple myeloma, and other cancers compared with the general population.

Stefani, the former San Francisco captain, said he has a message for the chemical lobbying industry: "We are sick and damn tired of being your canaries sent into the cave every time we fight a fire. We're sick and tired of seeing the men and women of our profession contracting and dying of this insidious disease.

"We're not only concerned about firefighters," added Stefani. "We're concerned about the population in general with ongoing, daily chemical exposures."

Source: Huffington Post. The article has been edited for length.

Toxic chemicals an occupational risk for firefighters

Fighting fires is risky enough - but back in the station or at home, firefighters should not have to be concerned with toxic chemical exposure. Unfortunately, toxins can linger on uniforms, equipment and hair as well as skin, so exposure risks remain high.

The toxic chemicals, fumes, odors and particles can easily be removed with an industrial-strength air cleaner from Electrocorp.

Electrocorp's air purifiers are equipped with many pounds of activated carbon to target VOCs, chemicals, fumes and odors, including formaldehyde and hundreds of other toxins. The air filtration system also includes a HEPA to trap particles and dust as well as various prefilters to prolong the main filters' lifespan.

The air cleaners are designed for around-the-clock operation (on a low setting for best results) and easy to use and long-lasting.

Contact Electrocorp for more information and a free consultation.

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