Record number of UK firefighters to be tested for cancer as part of life-saving research

Today, Monday 24th April, life-saving firefighter cancer monitoring begins in Greater Manchester, as part of a new UK wide research project commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). The testing is being carried out by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), led by a world expert in fire toxicity, Professor Anna Stec, and will continue in Manchester until Wednesday 26th April.

100 firefighters are participating by providing blood and urine samples to be analysed for the number of biomarkers of cancers and other diseases, and toxic chemicals. The results will be used to detect cancers and other diseases at the early stages, and to identify evidence linking occupational cancers with exposure to toxic fire chemicals.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service is working with the FBU and UCLan to facilitate the testing. Dave Russell, Chief Fire Officer for the region said: ‘I welcome this research as a significant step forward for firefighter safety’.

This follows recently released publications, finding that instances of cancer among UK firefighters aged 35-39 is up to 323% higher than in the general population in the same age category. The research also found that firefighters are significantly more likely to die from rare cancers, heart attacks and stroke, and several other diseases.

This testing project is the first of its kind to take place for firefighters in the UK following the recent World Health Organisation announcement that occupational exposure as a firefighter is carcinogenic. Greater Manchester follows the launch of the testing in Tyne and Wear, with the project seeking to test 1,000 firefighters in total across United Kingdom.

Riccardo la Torre, FBU National Officer said:

“We launched the first firefighter health monitoring project of its kind in the UK in February and are proud to now be testing even more firefighters. Every one of the 100 firefighters taking part in Manchester is contributing to vital research on the urgent issue of firefighter cancer.

The government and fire service employers have ignored firefighters and their exposures to toxic contaminants for far too long. Meanwhile, firefighters are dying far too often and far too early. Lack of health monitoring means these cancers are caught tragically late, at much more untreatable stages. We won’t stop until every firefighter in the UK has access to regular health monitoring.”

Dave Pike, FBU Greater Manchester Brigade Secretary said:

“This week, firefighters in Greater Manchester are leading the way towards a safer fire service. This research project is part of our fight for protections from cancers, in the memory of every firefighter we have already lost.

We are pleased that Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service is co-operating with us to roll out this vital round of testing in our region. Every service across the UK must follow this positive example, and there is much more to be done. That is why the FBU is demanding serious action from the government and all fire service employers to protect firefighters from these occupational, deadly diseases.”

Anna Stec, Professor in fire toxicity at the University of Central Lancashire, said:

“It is widely accepted that firefighters are dying from rare cancers up to 15-20 years earlier than the general public. These cancers and other diseases are detected far too late, with low chances of recovery. It is therefore vital that measures such as health monitoring is introduced so firefighters can be properly protected.”

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