According to studies by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and other agencies, firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying from the disease than the general adult U.S. population.
Recent research by Duke University scientists could give doctors and public health officials a new tool to track firefighters‘exposures to’ cancerchemicals and determine where and when the risks are greatest.
The nice thing is that it is not an expensive high-tech gadget. It’s just a silicone wristband, bought in bulk for about $1 each.
“It turns out that regular silicone wristbands, like the ones sold in stores, absorb the semi-volatile organic compounds you’re exposed to while out in the world,” says Jessica Levasseur, a Ph.D. student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who led the study.
“It’s like taking fingerprints from everywhere you’ve been and everything you’ve been exposed to,” Levasseur said.
The decision to use the tapes to monitor firefighters’ risks came about when the Durham Fire Department (DFD) approached Duke researchers for help identifying exposure risks faced by firefighters.
“Firefighters have high cancer rates compared to the… population, but we don’t know why,” Levasseur said. “Is it caused by exposure to one chemical or a combination of those? Is it something they breathe in while working at or near fires? Or something else? There are many risk factors and potential routes of exposure, and we wanted to see if silicone wristbands could be a practical tool for untangling them.”
In collaboration with other researchers from Nicholas School and the Duke Cancer Institute, she asked 20 DFD firefighters to wear the wristbands during a typical six-day shift, and then to get each firefighter’s baseline exposures while off-duty. .
Each wristband was analyzed for 134 different chemical compounds, including phthalates, brominated flame retardantsorganophosphate esters, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), all of which have been linked to an increased incidence of certain cancers.
“Seventy-one of these chemicals — including seven PFAS, which to our knowledge have never been detected with wristbands before — were found in at least half of the bands,” Levasseur said.
Levels of PAHs, brominated flame retardants and organophosphate esters were 0.5 to 8.5 times higher in the wristbands worn on the job than in the wristbands worn off-duty. This suggests that just a fireman means you are exposed to more of these compounds than the average adult, regardless of whether you react to a fire during work.
Tires that firefighters wore on days when they were actively fighting a fire also contained 2.5 times more PFOS — a type of PFAS — than the tires of firefighters who weren’t called to a fire. This suggests that exposure to these contaminants is strongly associated with active firefighting, Levasseur said.
In contrast, wristbands worn on days off contained higher levels of phthalates and pesticides.
“This study is the first to show that silicone wristbands can be used to quantify occupational exposure in firefighters and distinguish between exposures that may be related to fire events and other sources,” Levasseur said.
“Conducting follow-up studies with a larger population will help identify the sources of exposure that contribute to firefighters’ cancer risk and assess exposure risks that may be related to chemicals degassing from their equipment or materials in their fire station, which we believe.” have not done any investigations,” she said.
Jessica L. Levasseur et al, Characterization of firefighters’ exposure to more than 130 SVOCs with silicone wristbands: a pilot study comparing on-duty and off-duty exposures, Science of the total environment (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.155237
Quote: Silicone wristbands track firefighters’ exposure to harmful chemicals (2022, May 26) retrieved May 26, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-05-silicone-wristbands-track-firefighters-exposure.html
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