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Firefighter Occupational Exposure to Dangerous Chemicals

Firefighters face danger on every call they answer, but they are exposed to far more than smoke, flames, and unstable structures. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) listed occupational cancer as the number one cause of death among firefighters after the disease accounted for more than 74% of line-of-duty deaths in 2022. One predicted cause of this high rate of cancer deaths is firefighters’ exposure to “forever chemicals.”

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” are substances that are resistant to grease, oil, water, and heat, meaning they do not break down in the environment—or in the human body.

Exposure to PFAS is linked to several kinds of cancer, as well as other health conditions, including:

  • High cholesterol
  • Thyroid disease
  • Liver damage
  • Asthma & allergies
  • Decreased fertility & birth defects

Firefighters are particularly vulnerable to PFAS exposure due to using flame retardants. The two primary sources of PFAS exposure are firefighting foam and PPE or “turnout gear.” Class B firefighting foam often contains perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a type of PFAS that the IARC classified as a potential human carcinogen, and turnout gear is usually made or treated with a “forever chemical” called fluoropolymers. Firefighters are exposed to these chemicals through direct contact or the degradation of the PPE and subsequent ingestion or inhalation.

In July 2022, the IARC classified firefighting as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning there is sufficient evidence that exposure causes cancer in humans. Ohio law stipulates that compensation depends on proof of exposure to an agent classified as a Group 1 or 2A carcinogen. While firefighting is not an “agent,” as the term is used in legal code, it can be seen as an agent in the development of cancer. Furthermore, the IARC states that there is “strong mechanistic evidence that occupational exposure as a firefighter exhibits multiple key characteristics of carcinogens in exposed humans.” The reasonable conclusion would be that occupational exposure from firefighting would be treated as a Group 1 carcinogen in workers’ compensation claims.

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation recognizes the dangers firefighters face with exposure to chemicals. Volunteer firefighters who provide emergency services are also covered under Ohio workers’ compensation. The NRS Injury Law Team is experienced in Firefighters’ workers’ compensation claims.

If you or a loved one served as a firefighter and were later diagnosed with cancer or any other conditions listed above, contact the attorneys at NRS Injury Law for assistance with legal action associated with occupational exposure to PFAS. In situations like these, you need solid legal advice from Ohio’s largest workers’ compensation firm. Call 855-GOT-HURT or fill out the online form. We don’t collect any fees unless you win.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.
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