By Kylie Veleta, Inside Indiana Business:
There’s a lot of conjecture about cancer in the world of firefighting, but a crescendo of anecdotal—and scientific—evidence is driving two Indiana researchers to search for answers. One has uncovered data that confirms what was long suspected: Indiana firefighters are more likely to die from cancer than non-firefighters. And the other researcher is, for the first time in his career, hoping his hypothesis is wrong, because he suspects firefighters’ turnout gear—the clothing designed to protect them—could be one cause of the cancer.
Large national studies have confirmed cancer-related deaths among firefighters are increasing, compared to the general population, but Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI doctoral student Carolyn Muegge wanted to drill down to Indiana data.
“Firefighting in Indiana is not firefighting across the nation; think of the woodland fires or work that firefighters might do in Boston or New York City—it’s different,” says Muegge, who is also a research scientist at the National Institute for Public Safety Health. “It was important that we examine Indiana firefighters, so we don’t have to translate the data that is occurring in the fire service for other states.”
Her study, which analyzed data from 1985 to 2013, found that malignant cancers were the leading cause of death for Indiana firefighters. Muegge’s analysis of thousands of death certificates also revealed that Indiana firefighters are 20 percent more likely to die from cancer than non-firefighters. Heart disease was the leading cause of death among firefighters until 1995, when cancer “significantly surpassed heart disease.”
But the national data suggests that something all firefighters share in common could be contributing to the cancer trend. It was a personal note from a firefighter’s wife in Massachusetts that moved University of Notre Dame Professor of Experimental Nuclear Physics Dr. Graham Peaslee to search for a cause. She wrote about her husband, who survived cancer, and many other young firefighters in his company who were also diagnosed.
Read the full story here.