Repeated and long-term exposure to smoke is a serious concern for firefighters and NAMBA strongly supports effective measures to protect firefighters’ health by doing everything possible to eliminate those exposures.
The goal is to protect firefighters from exposure to any smoke from fires because it is toxic, regardless of the contents of what is burning. It is a misconception to think that smoke from a wood fire is less dangerous than smoke from other burning materials.
There is increasing evidence and recognition of elevated rates of cancer among firefighters around the world. Some cancers, such as mesothelioma, are generally attributable to a specific cause, such as exposure to asbestos. The increased cancer rates for the specific cancers identified in a 2013 study (updated 2019) by the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) were not attributable to any specific materials or products used in modern-day buildings. Policymakers and all stakeholders should carefully review the NIOSH studies and the references cited within them when trying to understand cancer incidence among firefighters.
While there have been claims that modern-day products may contribute to increased cancer rates in firefighters based on the materials or chemicals they contain, these cause-and-effect relationships have not been established. Firefighters are exposed to many hazardous compounds (carbon monoxide, smoke particulates/soot, heavy metals and asbestos, among many others) during fire suppression and post-fire overhaul operations. Combustion byproducts, cancer and the causes of cancer are all complex issues and are continually studied. At this moment, there is no clear data establishing that chemicals used in the manufacture of today’s building products are a primary or significant contributor to the observed increased cancer incidence among firefighters.
Industry Efforts to Help Protect Firefighters and First Responders
As an industry, the ACC supports robust research in the area of firefighter health. We want to be part of the solution to support and protect our first responders. We rely on firefighters as a key component of our overall safety initiatives at our manufacturing facilities and offices and we are engaged in ongoing partnerships to provide training, equipment and support for firefighters. Last year, our TRANSCAER® program trained more than 40,000 emergency responders throughout North America to better prepare for and respond to transportation and hazardous materials emergencies. Our 24/7 emergency response call center, CHEMTREC®, establishes links between shippers, carriers, emergency responders and medical professionals.