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Career Hazards: The Health Risks of Becoming a Firefighter You Need to Know

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Firefighters have been putting their lives on the line for many years so that we can make it out alive out of life-threatening fires. Initially, it was the fires that threatened their lives, but many are finding out that it’s the fire fighting agent posing the biggest threat to the lives of firefighters all over the world.

And though this career is a very rewarding and respectable career path to choose, and a dream job for many, it’s important you be aware of some of the long-lasting effects that come with the job. Sometimes the signs are apparent and sometimes they’re not, but if you’ve been exposed to a firefighting agent and have been experiencing any type of pain, you don’t want to delay getting yourself checked out.

The Chemical Risk

Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) has been a direct link to firefighters being diagnosed with various forms of cancer and Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are the chemical substances associated with AFFF. Let’s take a closer look at the harm this chemical substance does to those serving to protect their communities.

1.  Prostate cancer:

Prostate cancer is an aggressive form of cancer linked to PFAS. Firefighters have elevated PFAS because of the long-term use of firefighting foam. Men most at risk for testicular cancer are between the ages of 15-39 who have been in the military. Studies have found that in children and teens who developed testicular cancer, one of the parents served in the military.

2.  Thyroid cancer:

Thyroid cancer is the most common form of cancer found in the endocrine system and the most common. The environmental protection agency (EPA) stated that PFAS are the same chemicals that cause thyroid cancer. This cancer, if left undetected, can lead to vocal cords removal and even death.

When firefighters are fighting fires, the first only thing they are thinking about is to put out the fire and keep others safe. They do not think about the health and environmental damages the foam can cause. Cancer-causing agents used in firefighting foam are also related to thyroid disorders found during youth.

3.  Kidney cancer:

Firefighting foam, also known as the forever chemicals, has a half-life of 4-8 years. Like thyroid and testicular cancer, there are links between AFFF and kidney cancer. PFAS enter the body through food, water, and air that contain the chemicals. Three familiar places that PFAS settle are in the kidneys, blood, and liver.

Cancer is expensive to treat, and medical insurance may not cover all of it. Due to the costly treatment, some individuals are filing lawsuits for compensation. There is a high survival rate with kidney cancer, but the adverse effects on your health are long-lasting.

4.  Pancreatic cancer:

The pancreas is located in your lower stomach and releases enzymes to help break down food and manage blood sugar. Pancreatic cancer does not show noticeable symptoms until later stages. The survival rate of this cancer has improved thanks to advances in technology.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the top 10 types of cancer. These cancers are not only limited to firefighters. People who served in the U.S. Military, airport employees, and those exposed when drinking contaminated water are at risk for this type of cancer as well. Manufacturers of firefighter foam have known about these effects for many years but have neglected to inform businesses about them.

5.  Bladder cancer:

Firefighting foam leaves your body through urine. The process goes: AFFF chemicals settle in your blood and kidneys. Kidneys filter waste and impurities out of your body before it goes into your bladder. The chemicals stored in the bladder can cause cancer cells to grow and distribute throughout the body.

Bladder cancer is more common in men than women, with a 1 in 27 chance a male may get it and a 1 in 89 cases for women. This number increases when exposed to environmental contaminants like the forever chemicals.

Cancer is Not the Only Possible Effect of AFFF

Along with cancer, research has shown there are other serious side effects: such as

  • Fertility complications
  • Lower immune system
  • Low birth weight
  • Asthma
  • Increased cholesterol

These are not the only side effects found from long-term exposure to PFAS. There have been steps to limit the amount of PFAS in firefighting foam, but it has not yet eliminated the risk.


There currently is no absolute determination if firefighter foam is directly related to cancer. Research suggests that the forever chemicals that make up the foam are linked to cancer and congenital disabilities. If you or a loved one has cancer and have long-term exposure to AFFF, contact an attorney to find out your rights.