The 20-year study of Maine fire fighters is an effort to understand the long-term health effects of occupational exposure to controversial flame retardant chemicals used in furniture, plastics, computers, carpets, and other household items. Dr. Shaw says that because of toxic chemical byproducts created when flame retardants burn “today’s residential fires resemble hazmat situations more than they resemble traditional home fires.”
The study, which will analyze the blood of 100 Maine fire fighters at five-year intervals, follows Shaw’s earlier pilot study of fire fighters in San Francisco which showed that levels of the brominated flame retardants polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and their cancer-causing combustion byproducts – brominated dioxins and furans – were much higher than levels in the general US population.
The great irony, according to Dr. Shaw, is that PBDEs not only produce carcinogenic byproducts when they combust, but they also don’t prevent fire injuries.
“There is no hard data saying these compounds save lives,” Dr. Shaw said. “They create a slight burn delay but weighed against the carcinogenic properties, they aren’t worth the risks. Fire fighters bear the brunt of exposure to these toxic chemicals while responding to fires — a fact that our pilot study clearly demonstrated.”
Knowing that fire fighters are developing cancer at alarming rates and that their blood contains higher than normal amounts of hazardous chemicals, the Maine study seeks to connect the dots between exposure and cancer. Fire fighters’ blood will be analyzed immediately after a fire for a wide range of carcinogens as well as pre-cancer and cancer indicators. The study will serve as a model for future studies.
The webinar on February 3rd will also feature presentations from Rachel Morello-Frosch, Professor of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC-Berkeley;
To register for the webinar on Monday, February 3 from 2:00 - 3:30 p.m. EST/11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. PST, please visit http://breastcancerfund.enterthemeeting.com/
Michaela Kron, keating/co