WHO declares firefighting a cancer-causing profession

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Sunday, 3 July, 2022 - 12:15
Industry news
National News

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently declared firefighting as a cancer-causing profession.

The WHO IARC announced it was escalating the profession of firefighting from ‘Group 2B – Possibly carcinogenic to humans’ to ‘Group 1 – Carcinogenic to humans’ as part of its monograph on the identification of carcinogenic hazards to humans which is an ongoing detailed study of a single specialised subject.

The IARC Monograph identifies environmental factors that are carcinogenic hazards to humans, and these include chemicals, complex mixtures, occupational exposures, physical agents, biological agents, diesel particulate, shiftwork and lifestyle factors.

Some 25 scientists from eight countries met at IARC in France to finalise their evaluation of the carcinogenicity of occupational exposure as a firefighter, with a summary published in The Lancet.

The move has major implications for the manner in which cancer is managed for firefighters and fire services across the world, including Australia, according to United Firefighters Union of Australia – national secretary, Greg McConville.

He said IARC has now confirmed beyond any doubt, that the profession of firefighting causes cancer in firefighters and this has important implications for Australia’s governments and fire services.

“The WHO IARC has now absolutely confirmed what firefighters and their representatives have been advocating for years – firefighting causes cancer,” he said.

“The WHO’s decision to now classify the profession of firefighting as being ‘carcinogenic to humans’ represents an undeniable call upon all Australian governments to introduce new measures critical in protecting firefighter health.”

This includes increasing the number of cancers covered by firefighter presumptive legislation from 12 to 19 to include thyroid, pancreatic, skin, cervical, ovarian, penile and lung cancer.

“With women choosing to become firefighters in ever-growing numbers, it’s particularly important that we put in place measures to protect their health early, through the addition of cervical and ovarian cancer to presumptive legislation protecting firefighters.

“Additionally, firefighters urgently need long-term health screening and therapeutic blood donations to assist in managing their exposure to a range of dangerous toxins and PFAS.

“Comprehensive health screening for all firefighters throughout their career is absolutely critical in detecting the early signs of cancer and may promote early intervention, increasing the chances of survival and cure.

“Therapeutic blood donations also offer real hope to firefighters and other members of the community who have been exposed to PFAS and retain high levels of the deadly toxin in their blood.

“The removal of PFAS from firefighters’ bodies via therapeutic blood donation (venesection) will also assist in reducing the incidence of cancer and is already supported by Medicare in cases of haemochromatosis,” said McConville.