Read the full article by Dan Medeiros (The Herald News)
“Last March, six Fall River firefighters took part in a unique pilot study on the island of Nantucket, testing how much of the cancer-causing ‘forever chemicals’ in their gear rubbed off on their skin and entered their bloodstream. The results aren’t encouraging so far.
As one small part of the study, 18 firefighters from Fall River, Hyannis and Nantucket had blood samples drawn to measure the level of PFAS in their system.
Most firefighter protection gear is made with PFAS, a class of over 9,000 different chemicals also found in almost every consumer product to make them waterproof, durable, stain-resistant or nonstick. Environmental groups have linked exposure to certain PFAS compounds to serious and potentially fatal health consequences, including thyroid disease, high cholesterol levels, ulcerative colitis, and several different kinds of cancer — cancers of the liver, breasts, prostate, testicles, and kidneys being most common.
The blood draw results have been completed and were distributed individually to each participant in the study, including the six from Fall River.
Out of all the PFAS groups tested for, the firefighters’ average is ‘all above the national average,’ said Ayesha Khan, co-founder of the Nantucket PFAS Action Group.
‘It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s confirming the information that’s out there, which is part of good science,’ Khan added. ‘Firefighters do in fact have higher levels of PFAS in their blood.’…
… According to guidance from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, both the general population and the median of this study have a level of PFAS in their blood that falls into a category of moderate PFAS exposure. The thing to do: get periodic blood lipid and cancer screenings.
The firefighters’ levels were several points higher, and, according to Khan, some individual results fell into a category of elevated PFAS exposure. The thing to do: on top of the above tests, at every checkup, have doctors test your thyroid function, check for kidney and testicular cancer, and check for ulcerative colitis.
Khan’s husband, Nantucket Fire Dept. Capt. Nate Barber, is in remission from seminoma, a form of testicular cancer, and underwent radiation and surgery. They believe his cancer was likely caused by exposure to PFAS as a part of his job.
Khan said the results don’t mean firefighters will all develop cancer, but that they have an elevated risk compared to the rest of the population and need to be proactive about their health. ‘Make sure you get your annual checks,’ Khan said. ‘Make sure you get your physicals. It’s important.’
Because their job puts them in close contact with dangerous chemicals, and their gear is frequently made with PFAS, firefighters are at very high risk of developing cancer.
The Fall River Fire Department over the years has seen its share of cancer that some suspect could be related to their job. Firefighter and local union president Jason Burns has noted the cancer deaths of Paul Chippendale in 2013 and Adam Franco in 2015, both in their 30s, were eye-opening for him. Burns is now also executive director of the Last Call Foundation, an organization that promotes firefighter safety, including issuing grants for studies into PFAS in turnout gear and helping departments like Fall River buy new gear.“…