Firefighters and Bladder Cancer

Why are firefighters at a higher risk of developing bladder cancer?

Exposure to carcinogens in fires and in other situations puts firefighters and other first responders at an elevated risk of bladder cancer.

The exact causes remain unknown, but risk factors for contracting bladder cancer include exposure to carcinogens in the environment.  Firefighters, other first responders, and workers in the rubber, chemical and leather industries are at risk, as are hairdressers, machinists, metal workers, painters, textile workers.

What did the International Association of Fire Fighters say?

In July 2022, the International Association of Fire Fighters highlighted an article by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) In it, the authors has re-evaluated firefighting and classified fire fighter occupational exposure as a group 1 carcinogen, stating there is sufficient evidence for cancer in humans.

The classification marks a dramatic shift in IARC’s position on fire fighter occupational cancer. This designation will likely have a major impact on the fight against cancer in the fire service, from ongoing medical research to presumptive laws.

Many firefighters and other first responders have prolonged exposure to environmental chemicals and pollutants, things that can increase a person’s risk for bladder cancer.  According to the American Urological Association:

It is well known that prolonged exposure to certain environmental pollutants and chemicals puts humans at a major risk for developing bladder cancer. As the body absorbs carcinogenic chemicals, such as cigarette smoke, the chemicals are transferred to the blood, filtered out by the kidneys and expelled from the body through the urine. Greater concentrations of chemicals in the urine can damage the endothelial lining of the bladder and increase a patient’s odds of developing transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). Firefighters, who are regularly exposed to smoke and chemical fumes, may be at a higher risk for developing the disease than other groups.

Read a personal story: “Tony Stefani: A Firefighter’s Fight

What issues relevant to firefighters is BCAN working on?

BCAN is extending its support for HR 6946, a bill introduced in the House of Representatives on January 10, 2024. The proposed legislation calls for the Secretary of Defense to establish a compensation fund dedicated to military firefighters exposed to PFAs. Scientific research indicates that exposure to certain PFAs in the environment may lead to adverse health effects in both humans and animals.

According to the bill, within two years of its enactment, the Secretary of Defense is mandated to institute a program and fund named the “Military Firefighters Compensation Fund.” The primary objective of this compensation program is to ensure prompt, consistent, and sufficient compensation for current and former military firefighters, as well as applicable survivors. This compensation is intended for individuals who have suffered illnesses during their service for the Department of Defense and specific contractors and subcontractors due to exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs).

Furthermore, the bill specifies that current or former military firefighters, or their survivors in case of the firefighter’s demise, are entitled to compensation for disability or death resulting from the employee’s occupational illness.

If you are a military veteran, we encourage you to join our advocacy email list.