Firefighters and first responders have a hidden hazard they face: Cancer. Synthetic materials used in modern furniture spew out carcinogens when they burn, and firefighters are the first in line for a fresh dose.
Retired Miami firefighter Keith Tyson told The Atlantic that “roughly a third of his department has had some form of cancer in the past three years.“ Tyson himself retired after 34 years thanks to prostate cancer. The International Association of Fire Fighters has a startling data point: 60% of firefighters will die of cancer, it says.
The problem is that our homes are no longer filled with simple wood, metal and natural fabrics. Instead they’re stuffed full of synthetics, which give off toxic smoke filled with carcinogens. They also create a lot more smoke, filling a room in seconds with the combusted gases of non-stick coatings, flame retardant chemicals, and synthetic fabrics. This toxic smoke sticks around, too, clinging to firefighters’ protective clothing and staying dangerous until the clothes are cleaned in special (and expensive) machines–usually just once a year.
Even the heat of the fire causes the skin to absorb more chemicals, and more easily, according to The Atlantic piece. In fact, just about everything about the modern house fire is deadly. The fire itself is sometimes the least of the dangers.
Legislation could help, but in the U.S., the Safe Chemicals Act that was introduced in 2011 has been derailed by the chemical industry, and then appeared to have been mostly it is supposed to regulate.
What’s the answer? After all, fires aren’t going anywhere, and firefighters won’t stop fighting them. With the law in the pocket of industry, it seems that it’s left up to firefights to better protect themselves, and we can help by making changes at home. If we stop buying synthetic materials, then there’s no incentive to make them. That’s weak sauce, yes, but it has a bonus. If we rid our homes of synthetics, we won’t be exposed to the slow off-gassing of the same chemicals that endanger firefighters.