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21 -July- 2022

International Agency Classifies Firefighting as Carcinogenic

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified occupational exposure of fire-fighter as carcinogenic, changing the previous classification of possibly carcinogenic. The reclassification came after many new studies, including several led by the University of Arizona Health Sciences in collaboration with the Tucson Fire Department, supplied evidence that occupational exposure as a fire-fighter causes cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, convened a working group of 25 international experts and three invited specialists from eight countries to review the scientific literature. They found sufficient evidence that occupational exposure as a fire-fighter causes mesothelioma and bladder cancer, and limited evidence that it causes colon cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, melanoma of the skin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Dr. Burgess was one of the invited specialists who assisted the working group by gathering information on fire-fighter exposures.

Additionally, new mechanistic studies found consistent evidence that occupational exposure as a fire-fighter met five key characteristics of carcinogens, providing strong mechanistic support for the new classification. Several of the findings, specifically about epigenetic and receptor-mediated mechanisms of cancer, were from studies Dr. Burgess led in collaboration with the Tucson Fire Department, an organization he has worked with for three decades.

More than 15 million fire-fighters worldwide are exposed to a complex mixture of combustion products from fires – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, metals and particulates – diesel exhaust, building materials such as asbestos, and other hazards including heat stress, shift work, and ultraviolet and other radiation. In addition, the use of flame retardants in textiles and of persistent organic pollutants including per- and polyfluorinated substances in firefighting foams has increased over time.

"The new classification gives even more emphasis to the need for exposure reduction and to look at other ways that we might be able to modify the effects of exposures," Dr. Burgess said. "We need to figure out how to prevent or reverse those effects, beyond just reducing exposures."

News Courtesy: University of Arizona Health Sciences

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