Cancer Can't Wait: Governments from across Canada should expedite the implementation of a new cancer framework for Canadian firefighters
New federal legislation aims to protect firefighters from cancer.
OTTAWA, ON, Sept. 5, 2023 /CNW/ - The Canadian Cancer Survivor Network (CCSN) is urging governments across the nation to make good on their promise to protect firefighters from cancer.
"As we've said before, Cancer Can't Wait," says CCSN President & CEO Jackie Manthorne. "During COVID-19 we witnessed the interruption of cancer care delivery to patients. Now, after the worst wildfire season in Canadian history, we're all witnessing the risk of structural and wildland firefighters' developing cancers due to occupational exposure. It's critical to protect firefighters from developing cancer. They simply can't wait."
New National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting Act
This past June, the National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting Act (Bill C-224) received Royal Assent. This act aims to protect firefighters from cancer through the establishment of a national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting. A Canadian action plan to protect firefighters from harmful chemicals was first identified by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). In 2022, the IARC declared the occupational exposure of firefighting would receive its highest classification: Group 1 "carcinogenic to humans".
The banning of chemical flame retardants, the development of safe flame retardants and alternatives, investment in research and monitoring, identifying best practices, sharing information, and raising awareness are all critical pillars of the new national framework.
"The federal government has taken a step in the right direction with the introduction of the National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting Act," adds Manthorne. "Today, we urgently ask governments from across Canada to expedite their efforts and implement this new framework in response to the increased cancer risk that firefighters face at every call."
Additional steps asked of Health Canada
CCSN urges Health Canada to take additional steps to improve the framework. These steps include implementing and enforcing stricter exposure limits for carcinogens encountered by firefighters; developing workplace-specific toxic use reduction policies; encouraging the use of safer technologies and establishing a registry of workplace exposures to be tracked and analyzed over time.
CCSN would also like to see enhanced workplace safety training with a focus on prevention and identification of carcinogens, along with training to identify the early symptoms of cancer and when firefighters should seek medical advice. More research funding to investigate the link between firefighting and cancer should be available, and streamlining and standardizing the process for recognizing occupational cancer and making compensation and treatment equitable across the board should also be implemented. All recommendations should be reviewed for their effectiveness on a regular basis, and best practices should be learned from other countries.
About the Firefighter cancer Bill C-224
Bill C-224, An Act to establish a national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting, was granted Royal Assent in June 2023. The legislation includes a Canadian action plan to protect firefighters from harmful chemicals that have been identified by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The banning of chemical flame retardants, the development of safe flame retardants and alternatives, investment in research and monitoring, identifying best practices, sharing information, and raising awareness are all pillars of the plan.
About the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
Based on sufficient evidence for cancer in humans, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared in 2022 that the occupational exposure of firefighting would receive its highest classification: Group 1 "carcinogenic to humans". This Group 1 classification of the occupation of firefighting applies to men and women, career and volunteer, and both structural and wildland firefighting occupations around the world.
Among the most dangerous of the carcinogenic agents' firefighters are exposed to are IARC's Group 1 agents: arsenic, asbestos, and benzene. Asbestos is the leading cause of mesothelioma, arsenic has been linked to skin cancer, and benzene is known to cause leukemia. Other Group 1 agents firefighters encounter include cadmium, formaldehyde, silica, soot, and PCBs, among several others.
Even the exhaust from diesel engines, which firefighters are exposed to from their own fire trucks, is a Group 1 carcinogenic. The Center for Disease Control in the US says the exposure to firefighters is constant, and being around the exhaust is associated with the development of lung cancer.
Firefighters are also exposed to several Group 2 agents. While Group 2 agents don't have a direct link to cancer, they are suspected of having a connection. Aside from things like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, poly-fluoroalkyl substances, and dioxins, the byproducts of fire are also suspected to be carcinogenic. Products of biomass fuel combustion as well as creosote, a byproduct of burning wood, are listed as Group 2 carcinogens. Shiftwork associated with firefighting, and the circadian rhythm disruption it causes, is also on this list.
About the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network
CCSN works to connect patients, survivors and other stakeholder groups with decision makers and the wider community to engage in discussion and to act on evidence-based best practices to alleviate the medical, emotional, financial, and social costs of cancer. To learn more, visit www.survivornet.ca.
SOURCE Canadian Cancer Survivor Network (CCSN)
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