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UA researchers studying cancer in firefighters

Posted at 9:43 PM, Dec 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-06 19:07:54-05
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Researchers at the University of Arizona will be getting $1.5 million in funding to study cancer in firefighters.
 
The University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health will lead the study which doctors say will help set up the framework for more long-term research. The grant is from the Department of Homeland Security.
 
Experts say cancer is a leading cause of death among fire crews. Firefighters are often exposed to carcinogens through inhalation and through the skin from things like soot, smoke and other chemicals.
 
Dr. Jeff Burgess, the associate dean of research at the school, says while there has been research done before we still do not know what specific exposures cause cancer among firefighters. 
 
"We know from some of the previous studies that firefighters have higher cancer rates than the general population, and firefighters are out there protecting us every day," Dr. Burgess said. "They put their lives on the line for us. It's really important for us to support them, and to work to figure out ways to make their jobs safe."
 
This grant will help doctors expand existing studies. The Tucson Fire Department has been involved in that cancer research at the U of A for the past year. The department is taking part in a study that includes taking blood and urine samples from crews within hours of a call.
 
Tucson Fire Health and Safety Captain John Gulotta says he was inspired to get involved with this research when a fire inspector with TFD died of leukemia. Gulotta says every department knows at least one firefighter who has died of cancer, and it often doesn't show up until retirement.
 
Crews aren't just dealing with wood and paper anymore, Gultotta said, and now we're burning synthetics and plastics. It is unclear how those toxins may impact firefighters, Gultotta said, and we need to keep up with the science.
 
The studies could provide better ways for crews to protect themselves from toxins, like gear that could reduce exposure.