Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Firefighters have higher risk of cancer: Study

Study confirms cancer cluster among firefighters in Victoria

Firefighters are exposed to flammable
chemicals, combustion, foams and more.
Firefighters who worked at a Country Fire Authority facility in Victoria’s Ballarat region have a higher incidence of skin, testicular and brain cancers, a comprehensive study has found.

The study, conducted by Monash University, examined cancer and death rates linked to the Fiskville site between 1971 and 1999. It found 69 cancers were among the 606 people who worked and trained there, resulting in 16 deaths.

After releasing the findings, the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, told reporters the research confirmed “beyond any reasonable doubt” that there was a statistically significant increase in cancers associated with firefighters who worked at the site.

“This is a very tragic report,” he said. “The evidence is becoming clearer and clearer each day that people have become sick because of this place. People have died because of this place.”

Researchers found a cancer cluster in the high-risk group, considered to be those who worked full-time on the site training firefighters, and who were exposed to flammable chemicals, combustion, foams and recycled firewater.

Of 95 high-risk workers traced, 25 had cancer and six had passed away from their cancer, the study found.

In December, Andrews announced a landmark parliamentary inquiry to examine pollution, contamination and unsafe activities at Fiskville training centre from 1970 to 1990. It is expected to conclude in June this year.

The commission would provide victims and their families with answers and support, and would consider “how, not whether” those affected and their families would be compensated. “This is sad, tragic, and we’re going to put this right,” Andrews said.

But the risk was a historical one, he said. Many of the chemicals staff came into contact with were no longer used during training.

“For those who work here now, there are very low risks associated with this site today because remediation work has been done,” Andrews said. “There’s ongoing oversight and monitoring of those risks and that vigilance is critically important.”

A spokeswoman for the Country Fire Authority (CFA) said the organisation’s chief executive, Mick Bourke, would not be speaking to the media. “He will be communicating with CFA members at some point today through a blog post,” she said.

An official with the United Firefighters Union Victorian branch, Mick Tisbury, said it was “abhorrent” Bourke had refused to comment. The union was calling for his immediate resignation, he said.

“He and the CFA have been denying there was anything wrong with the place for years, they have put our health and safety at risk.

“We’re not expendable. We have families. We are people.”

Tisbury worked at the Fiskville site for 11 years.

“Every day, we have to live with this at the back of our minds,” he said.

In June last year, there was anger among some firefighters and their families when Cancer Council Victoria released a preliminary report that stated firefighters who worked at Fiskville did not have an increased incidence of cancer.

Cancer Council CEO Todd Harper said the report was commissioned only to look at data readily available by cross-referencing the records of 599 Victorian firefighters with data from the Victorian cancer registry.

“At the time we explained the limitations of this study, including imprecision of the relative risk estimates. So, while the earlier report did not find evidence of a cluster, nor did it rule out the existence of one. The Monash University study takes into account those firefighters who had moved interstate - information which was not available earlier.”

He said the council would like to see coordinated action at a national and state level in order to reduce the burden of harm from occupational cancers.

The co-investigator of the latest study, Professor Malcolm Sim, said the research was now more comprehensive, which is why the findings differed.

“The Cancer Council report only looked at firefighters in Victoria and was only supposed to be a preliminary examination, but what we did is trace firefighters who had moved interstate and we did pick up some cancer in those people,” said Sims, who is director of the Monash centre for occupational and environmental health.

“We also placed people into different categories of exposure based on existing guidelines for doing so. This is quite a major piece of work that used Australian Institute of Health data and took over one year to complete.”

The cancer results “stood right out”, Sims said. “Their death rates from other causes of disease, like heart and respiratory disease, were quite low, because these are healthy, fit people.

“That’s why their cancer results stood right out. There was a big gap between cancer and other diseases you don’t usually see in people like this, with healthy lifestyles.”

Researchers would look in more detail at the specific compounds associated with the cancers among the group, he said.

“The problem is the firefighters studied came into contact with a cocktail of exposures and chemicals, and we don’t know which ones may be contributing to their cancers,” Sims said.

Source: The Guardian

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