Female Firefighters May Face Increased Breast Cancer Risk

According to new research by Cornell University scientists, the toxic chemicals all firefighters can face every time they respond to a call might be especially dangerous to women responders, because many of the chemicals are known to increase the risk of breast cancer. The new study is available in a brochure published by Cornell's Sprecher Institute for Comparative Cancer Research and the school's Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors Program (BCERF), with support from the New York State Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation.

Report co-authors Suzanne Snedeker and Nellie Brown said their research targets the roughly 9,000 paid women firefighters in the United States and is designed to inform them of their particular risk and what to do about it.

"Our big take-home message is, wear self-contained breathing apparatus during all phases of firefighting," Snedeker said. "Put on the gear before arriving at a fire and don't take it off until the operation or inspection is completed, even during fire inspections conducted days later when chemicals can still outgas from charred remains." Studies have shown, she added, that firefighters often don't put on their SCBA early enough and take it off too soon.

The brochure outlines a variety of fire scenarios and the types of chemicals that are possible breast carcinogens that result from the thermal decomposition of a host of products, from smoldering or burning of wood, to foams, glues, resins, paints, mattresses, shower stalls, coatings for wires and cables, rubber, window treatments and vinyl tubing, as well as chemicals of concern released from brush, forest, and tire fires. The publication is available at http://envirocancer.cornell.edu/learning/alert/fire08.cfm. To request print copies, call BCERF at (607) 254-2893.

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