Levels of potentially harmful chemicals increase with years of service

Volunteer firefighters – who make up more than 65 percent of U.S. firefighters – have higher levels of “forever chemicals”, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in their bodies than the general public, according to a Rutgers study. .

The study, which was published in the International Journal of Environmental and Public Health Research, compared the levels of nine PFAS chemicals in the blood of volunteer firefighters to levels in the general population.

This is the first study to assess the exposure of volunteer firefighters to PFAS, which are chemicals that accumulate in the human body and in the environment and are found in everyday articles like electronics and carpet. PFAS have been linked to many health issues that affect firefighters, including cardiovascular disease. More and more evidence has linked them to cancer.

“The leading cause of death in the line of duty in firefighters are heart attacks. They also contract and die more often than others from many types of cancer,” said lead author Judith Graber, associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health and a faculty member of the Institute for Environmental Sciences and Occupational Health. “Over 95 percent of the American population have these chemicals to some extent in their bodies, but firefighters are more exposed to PFAS from their protective equipment and fire extinguisher foam and materials. fire they encounter which release particles, which can be inhaled or deposited. on equipment and skin. “

The study interviewed 135 members of a New Jersey volunteer fire department about their lifestyle and risk factors for cancer and compared the traces of nine PFAS chemicals in their blood to levels recorded in the general population. in the National Health and Nutrition from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Examination survey, which tracks the health status of a nationally representative sample of 5,000 people per year. While there are over 4,000 PFAS chemicals, the study looked at the nine chemicals that the CDC has tracked the longest and that are seen most often in the general population.

The researchers found that the levels of two of the chemicals studied – perfluorododecanoic acid (PFDoA) and perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA) – were higher in volunteer firefighters. “Notably, we found levels of PFDoA in 80 percent of firefighters, but few in the general public,” Graber said.

Higher chemical levels were also associated with the number of years of firefighting; the average participant had 20 years of experience. Since they’re always on call, volunteer firefighters could potentially rack up more years of firefighting-related exposures than their career counterparts, Graber said.

“The number one risk for a firefighter is to be protected from the fire. The chemicals used in fire extinguisher foam and protective clothing used by firefighters appeared 40 years ago when people thought they were safe, and they work well for what they are. intended. do, ”Graber said. “More research is needed to better understand the sources of these chemicals and to design effective foam and protective clothing that does not use these chemicals.”

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Material provided by Rutgers University. Original written by Patti Verbanas. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.

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