The fact cancer is now the leading cause of death amongst firefighters globally owes principally to the toxic carcinogens produced during fire being absorbed through the skin. Fire departments worldwide must now address this burning issue by incorporating fit-for-purpose decontamination wipes into their existing on-scene decontamination procedures.
According to the information contained in the UK Government’s ‘Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life’ publication, long-term exposure to toxin contaminated environments is leading to UK firefighters developing more than one type of cancer. Furthermore, these cancers are being diagnosed at an increasingly younger age. The publication confirms, “this exposure has been linked to elevated rates of four cancers in firefighters: multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, prostate, and testicular.”
This sobering conclusion is underlined by research in the US. Data compiled by NIOSH indicates that US firefighters are at a “significantly higher risk of developing specific types of cancer.” For example, US firefighters are twice as likely to develop testicular cancer over the general population.
Whilst investigating the probable cause of this widespread increase in firefighter cancer rates, research conducted by toxicology professors at the UK’s University of Central Lancashire revealed that toxins are entering the body not just through inhalation – toxin-rich compounds present in carcinogenic soot absorb at an alarming rate through skin. In fact, human skin is 400% more absorbent with every 5 degree rise in temperature. With the very nature of firefighting being conducted in extremely hot environments, it’s clear to see how those working in the sector are at an increased risk.
More worrying is the fact toxins produced in fire are becoming increasingly dangerous. Whereas buildings would have been solely furnished with wood, metal and glass a century ago, they’re now proliferated with flame-retardant plastics, synthetic materials and foam. “Studies of California firefighters show that they have higher levels of [the man-made flame-retardant] PBDE’s in their blood than the general population,” continues the UK Government’s ‘Toxic Chemicals’ publication. “In addition, elevated contamination was identified in fire station dust compared with Californian homes. This is possibly linked to tracking of contamination from incidents to fire stations.”
The bottom line: when modern furniture and consumer electronics burn, they produce a noxious cloud more toxic than ever. The need to remove these harmful contaminants as quickly as possible from skin, clothing and equipment on-scene has never been greater.
Delving deeper still, this toxic fume of burning synthetics contains an abundance of extremely nasty chemicals known as chlorinated dioxins. Aware of the connection between exposure to these chemicals and cancer, De-Wipe developed the UK’s first and only after-fire decontamination wipe that is scientifically proven to remove these most harmful of toxins produced in fire from skin, clothing and equipment. Their after-fire wipe draws contaminants away from surfaces like a magnet, trapping them permanently inside before they can enter the body.
De-Wipe’s team of toxicology professors at Manchester Metropolitan University have examined the effectiveness of their after-fire decontamination wipe at removing the most dangerous chlorinated dioxins from skin. The results were overwhelmingly positive with De-Wipe’s lead scientist for the study, Associate Director of the Ecology & Environment Research Centre Dr David Megson, stating: “The one thing we can say positively now is that De-Wipe are effectively removing pollutants from a variety of different surfaces and were able to remove polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and were able to remove chlorinated dioxins.”
The ground-breaking study also focused on 8 of the most hazardous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons including the highly carcinogenic Benzo(a)pyrene. This is an especially potent compound found in coal tar and exhaust fumes. Results indicate De-Wipe is able to remove an amount greater than 91% of Benzo(a)pyrene after exposure to skin in the controlled laboratory tests. Dr Megson confirmed: “it appears to be easier to remove these pollutants from the skin than any other surface.”
Despite the scientific evidence, fire crews may still be wondering why they can’t just remove soot from their skin with baby wipes. For starters, baby wipes contain mild cleansing lotions that are intended to be sensitive to delicate skin. These cleansing lotions are likely the same lotions found in everyday skin care products. Ask yourself: are the cancerous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and chlorinated dioxins produced from burning plastic an everyday toxin? For reference, De-Wipe’s scientists tested their effectiveness against baby wipes with results concluding they remove a significant 70% more pollutants from skin. This result confirms that using wipes to decontaminate is about more than appearing to be clean.
Furthermore, baby wipes are composed of soft, non-woven cloth that is designed to feel gentle on the skin. Something designed to be soft and gentle won’t stand up to rigorous cleaning of soot on the EPDM in a firefighter’s breathing apparatus without breaking apart. After-fire decontamination wipes should be manufactured from tightly woven fabric that can’t be easily ripped or torn.
The scientific study discussed in this article represents a major advancement in after-fire decontamination equipment. Fire services worldwide must now take these results as a benchmark by which their own on scene decontamination processes can be modernised.
For more information, go to www.dewipe.com