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Cancer Prevention in the Fire Service: Exposure Assessment, Toxic Effects and Risk Management

Purpose and Aims: The purpose of the proposed research is to identify effective methods of reducing firefighter exposure to carcinogens and associated toxic effects through completion of the following specific aims: 1) Evaluate exposure to carcinogens throughout the work shift; 2) Measure biomarkers of carcinogenic effect in relation to workplace exposures; and 3) Within a risk management framework, test the effectiveness of interventions to reduce fire service carcinogen exposure and effects.

Relevance: Cancer is a leading cause of fire service morbidity and mortality.  Exposure to carcinogens occurs through skin contamination, through the lungs when respiratory protection is not worn during all phases of fire suppression and overhaul, and through inhalation during standby, operation of apparatus and off-gassing of equipment.  In addition to fire smoke, diesel exhaust exposure can occur from operation of apparatus at the fire ground and in the station.  Since cancer has a long latency period between exposure and disease onset, measurements are needed that can determine the effectiveness of new interventions on a much shorter time interval. 

Methods: Exposure to particulates and volatile chemicals will be measured at the fireground and in-transit.  Diesel particulate matter monitoring during responses and in the fire station will also be completed.  Blood and urine collected during annual medical surveillance evaluations and post-fireground activities will be analyzed for chemical contaminants.  Biomarkers of carcinogenic effect will also be analyzed pre- and post-exposure, and evaluated for association with measured chemical contaminants.  The extent to which firefighter chemical exposures and biomarkers of effect can be reduced by following risk management steps will be determined. 

Anticipated outcomes: The proposed research will identify carcinogenic exposures throughout the fire shift and measure the effectiveness of interventions designed to reduce cancer risks. 

Start Year: 
2015
End Year: 
2018
Researchers: 
Jeff Burgess
Stephanie Griffin
Jin Zhou
Elizabeth Jacobs

The University of Arizona