Firefighters risk their lives every day on the job when they fight fires to protect our lives and our property. They suffer serious injuries when they are burned, fall in or out of burning buildings, are in vehicle accidents, or are crushed by heavy machinery. But the day-to-day fighting of fires is not the only danger firefighters face. They are also at higher risk of developing various types of cancer due to the toxic substances they are exposed to at a fire. Even worse, these brave heroes may have to fight to obtain the workers’ compensation benefits they are entitled to under New Jersey law.

Firefighters fighting building fireStudies Find an Increased Risk of Cancer for Firefighters

Firefighters are exposed to many toxic substances when they are battling fires or are even in the vicinity of them. They can inhale these substances or absorb them into their skin. Some of these toxic substances include:

  • Radiation
  • Smoke and second hand smoke
  • Diesel engine exhaust
  • Soot
  • Hazardous chemicals like benzene, chloroform, styrene, formaldehyde, lead, and asbestos

Many of these toxins are released into the air from the possessions that people own when they are burned in fires. Furniture, household goods, and electronics contain synthetic materials like plastics, foams, and coatings that can change chemical composition when they burn and release carcinogens into the air. They also create significantly more smoke than natural substances. Flame retardants are the worst. In addition, other harmful substances like asbestos fibers can be released into the air—and get into firefighters’ lungs—in a fire.

Several recent studies have drawn the same conclusion: Firefighters are at greater risk of contracting cancer than the general population. In 2013, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) analyzed the cancer and cancer deaths of 30,000 firefighters in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. When compared to the general population, firefighters were significantly more likely to develop cancer. The study found that:

  • Firefighters were at greatest risk of develop respiratory, digestive, and urinary system cancers.
  • Firefighters had a rate of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused by asbestos exposure, two times greater than the general population.

In another study conducted by NIOSH in 2015, researchers studied firefighter cancer rates in California. They found the following cancer risks:

  • Firefighters were at increased risk of developing certain cancers, including melanoma, acute myeloid leukemia, multiple myeloma, and cancers of the esophagus.
  • Black and Latino firefighters were at a significantly greater risk than other firefighters of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia and tongue, testicle, and bladder cancers.

New Jersey Fails to Pass Law Establishing a Presumption of Cancer

Approximately three dozen states have workers’ compensation laws that presume that certain cancers are related to a firefighter’s job and exposure to smoke and other toxic substances. This means that firefighters in these states would be entitled to workers’ comp benefits without proving that their cancers are job-related—making it much easier for them to receive needed benefits.

Unfortunately, New Jersey is one of 15 states that do not have one of these laws. Legislation was introduced, but could not gain approval. However, in May 2016, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act was passed to collect cancer data on full-time and volunteer firefighters around the country to study the link between a firefighter’s job and his risk of cancer. This is at least a step in the right direction.

Let Our Firm Help You Fight for the Benefits You Are Entitled To

If you are a firefighter who developed cancer from your job, you have another battle ahead of you to obtain the workers’ compensation you need to pay for your expensive medical treatments that could literally save your life and your lost wages. I have been assisting injured workers like you for over 20 years and am here to help you prove your cancer was caused by your work so you can spend your time and energy focusing on fighting your illness. Start an online chat or call our firm at 877-360-0183 to schedule a free consultation to learn how I can help you receive the benefits you deserve.

Manfred Ricciardelli
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Morristown Workers' Compensation Lawyer