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Flame retardant exposure injuring Minnesota workers

Taking on the challenge of fighting fires is one of the most dangerous jobs out there, and new research shows that products inside the homes firefighters work to protect may be hurting firefighters over the long run. A growing number of Minnesota firefighters are filing workers’ compensation claims due to toxic exposure issues they face on the job, many of which could be linked to cancer.

When it comes to leading causes of line-of-duty deaths for firefighters, cancer takes first place. More than half of all firefighting-related deaths are linked to cancer. Firefighters face a 50 percent higher risk of blood cancers, and a 100 percent higher risk of testicular cancer when compared with other individuals. 

Modern manufacturing of home décor staples, like furniture and carpets, has produced goods that burn hotter and faster than ever. That ultimately increases the skin absorption of many chemicals on those products that are made of synthetic materials. The long-term impact of such exposure has not been fully investigated in research, but Minnesota toxicologists are exploring the connection.

Early insight from that research shows that the chemicals in flame retardants, which are designed to help delay fires from spreading by several seconds, are extremely toxic when absorbed so quickly. That same research discovered that for every few degrees of skin temperature increase during a fire, a firefighter’s rate of absorption increased by as much as 400 times. This means that chemicals are introduced at high heats and absorbed quickly, which could lead to short-term and long-term issues of toxic exposure. 

Source: CBS Local, “Are flame retardants causing cancer in firefighters?,” Liz Collin, May 26, 2014 

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