Fire contaminants linked to significant physical and mental health issues among UK firefighters 

New research has found that toxic contaminants in fires are directly linked to increased rates of cancer and mental health issues among firefighters. 

The research, commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and independently carried out by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), is based on a survey of over 10,000 serving and retired firefighters across the UK, representing almost a quarter (around 24 per cent) of the UK’s total firefighter workforce.

The findings, published in the Scientific Reports journal, show that 4.1 per cent of surveyed firefighters were found to have a cancer diagnosis. Instances of cancer among firefighters aged 35-39 is up to 323 per cent higher than in the general population in the same age category. UK firefighters who have served at least 15 years are found to be 1.7 times as likely to develop cancer than those who have served less time. Skin cancer is by far the most prevalent cancer reported – 36 per cent of those firefighters with cancer have been diagnosed with skin cancer. 

UCLan’s research, which has been led by Professor Anna Stec, professor in fire chemistry and toxicity, also explores the link between firefighters’ exposure to fire effluents and mental health. 20 per cent of respondents reported having a mental health condition. The rate of anxiety among surveyed firefighters was twice that of the general population, while the rate of depression was nearly three times that of the general population.