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Occupational cancer: is your job putting your health at risk?

If you asked anyone to make a list of the most dangerous occupations, firefighting would be near the top. Most people would consider it a risky job because you are usually going into a burning structure where you run the risk of dying from a number of things including fire exposure, smoke inhalation, and even structural collapse.

But some say that there is another danger, which may not be apparent at first glance, that firefighters should be concerned about. And it's because of this danger that some people across the nation are looking to researchers and legislators to help foster change.

The danger firefighters might not be aware of comes from many of the objects found in the structures they work in. For more than 40 years, flame retardant chemicals have been used in a variety of products. But experts are now saying that the smoke released from these burning objects is exposing firefighters to toxic chemicals that could lead to serious occupational diseases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, millions of workers here in the United States are exposed to substances that are considered to be carcinogenic. For firefighters, the risk of exposure to these substances is incredibly high and may be the reason that "more than half of all line-of-duty deaths in firefighting are now caused by cancer."

These carcinogenic chemicals can cause cancers in the skin when they are absorbed throughout the course of work or even after the fire has been extinguished. Other forms of cancer, such as lung cancer, can also develop if a firefighter removes their mask and respirator too soon after a blaze has been put out.

Even though many would consider this a work-related disease and eligible for workers' compensation -- especially in cases where there is no family history of cancer -- claims for benefits may still be denied. This could be incredibly frustrating to anyone who believes they have a legitimate claim and it could force them to seek a lawyer who can help get them the benefits they deserve.

Sources: WCCO, "Are flame retardants causing cancer in firefighters?" Liz Collin, May 26, 2014

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Occupational Cancer," Accessed Sept. 9, 2014

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