The United States faces a growing crisis as young firefighters increasingly fall victim to cancer, raising questions about the adequacy of their protective gear and insurance coverage. January, recognized as Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, sheds light on this alarming trend. The World Health Organization has recently categorized firefighting as a carcinogenic occupation, equating its risk level to that of smoking cigarettes.
Diane Cotter, whose husband, a firefighter, was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in 2015, has been a driving force in uncovering the risks firefighters face. Her investigation revealed the presence of harmful fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS in firefighters’ turnout gear. These “forever chemicals” are believed to contribute significantly to the high cancer rates among firefighters.
The International Association of Firefighters reports an epidemic level of cancer in the profession, with a majority of deaths not related to firefighting incidents but to occupational cancer. Despite this, health insurance providers often limit early cancer screenings, leaving firefighters vulnerable. Diane Cotter and over 20,000 firefighters are part of a federal lawsuit against PFAS manufacturers, seeking justice for those affected. Meanwhile, legislative efforts at the federal level to ban PFAS in firefighting gear and ensure better insurance coverage for early screenings are underway.
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