Exposure to smoke is a serious concern for firefighters and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) strongly supports effective measures to protect firefighters’ health by doing everything possible to eliminate those exposures.

The goal is to protect firefighters from exposure to any smoke from fires, regardless of the contents of what is burning. Fires, and the resulting smoke, are toxic regardless of the source of those fires and what is being burned. It is a misconception to think that smoke from an old wooden house burning is somehow less dangerous than smoke from a modern house burning. This is a well-documented fact based on years of combustion research.

Firefighter Health

There is recognition of elevated rates of some cancers among firefighters, such as mesothelioma, and they are generally attributed to specific causes, such as asbestos exposures. The increased cancer rates for the specific cancers identified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) were not attributed to use of any specific materials or products in modern day buildings. Policy makers and all stakeholders should look carefully at the NIOSH study of cancer incidence among firefighters.

While there have been claims that chemicals in modern-day products may contribute to increased cancer rates in firefighters, such cause-and-effect relationships have not been established. There is simply no clear association between chemicals in today’s products and increased health effects in firefighters.

Industry Efforts to Help Protect Firefighters and First Responders

As an industry, ACC supports robust research in the area of firefighter health. We want to be part of the solution to protect our first responders. We rely on firefighters as a key component of our overall safety initiatives at our manufacturing facilities and our offices and we are engaged in ongoing partnerships to provide training, equipment and support for firefighters. Last year, our TRANSCAER® program trained more than 40,000 emergency responders throughout North America to better prepare for and respond to transportation and hazardous materials emergencies. And our 24/7 emergency response call center, CHEMTREC®, establishes links between shippers, carriers, emergency responders and medical professionals.

ACC and its members have a strong commitment to worker safety. Our Responsible Care® program is the industry’s award-winning and internationally recognized environmental, health, safety and security performance initiative. As a result, ACC member companies’ worker safety record is 5X better than average of U.S. manufacturing sector. Responsible Care also includes a focus on chemicals management throughout the supply chain to foster safe handling and use of chemicals and promote worker safety through every step in a manufacturing and use process.

When it comes to firefighter safety, the best way to help protect our firefighters is to make sure they have access to protective safety equipment – equipment that would not be possible without chemistry. It is the materials and products made possible through chemistry – polycarbonate helmets, highly-retardant and reflective fabrics, high performance, heat- and water-resistant safety suits, and much more–that help protect firefighters on the job. Other materials include those that allow safe handling and cleaning of firefighter gear and equipment.

Additional Information

Issues essential to helping ensure the safety of firefighters are outlined in the Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN) 2013 Report “Taking Action Against Cancer in the Fire Service.” We would encourage all stakeholders to review this information and support meaningful efforts, including additional resources so our firefighters have access to the best equipment, training and practices, which can reduce firefighter exposure to toxic smoke and byproducts.

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