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Patients with mycosis fungoides have a good prognosis with the proper care.But for now, cancer treatments leave Olsen exhausted.In the past, firefighters would walk around in their suits long after a fire and reuse gloves and hoods that could be contaminated with chemical residue or asbestos fibers.Some firefighters would go home without showering first.Pennsylvania law says firefighters can receive workers compensation if they can prove their cancer was caused by job exposures, but such claims routinely get rejected because it’s so difficult to make that connection.Meanwhile, firefighters like Derrick Moffett, 36, are left to wonder if the work they love is compromising their health. “When the doctor told me, I jokingly asked for a second opinion,” Moffett said.
Known carcinogenics such as asbestos, arsenic, benzene, chromium, diesel fumes, carbon monoxide, dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls are all common at fire scenes, especially in areas with old buildings and heavy industry. “When I came on the job in 1974, we dealt with a lot of older construction,” said Ed Marks, president of Philadelphia Fire Fighter and Paramedic Union Local 22.
The largest study of its kind, released last year by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), examined data on 30,000 firefighters from Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco.
It found “modestly increased all-cancer risk compared with the general population.” “These findings contribute to the evidence of a causal association between firefighting exposures and cancer,” the study said.
“There’s a latency in the time from an exposure to when a cancer gets diagnosed,” Rebbeck said.
“And that can be very long.” Tony Sneidar, deputy commissioner of logistics for the Philadelphia Fire Department, said he believes there is “a significant [cancer risk] increase to firefighters compared to the civilian population.” “My take on the way the [NIOSH] study was written is that it gave the facts, but it minimized the cancer risk,” said Sneidar, who suspects the risks actually are greater.