The Fighting 126: Ohio State University leading the research to stop cancer among firefighters

COLUMBUS (WCMH) —  Firefighters in Columbus believe firefighters are increasingly being diagnosed with cancer.

While studies have shown that they are at a greater risk of getting certain cancers, there is not a lot of research in Ohio to find out exactly what’s causing their cancer. “”We had talked to someone at Columbus Fire and they had mentioned that they thought they head that in a year span over 50 Columbus fire fighters had been diagnosed with one type of cancer or another. Part of this is to get an idea of what is that public health burden of cancer risk among fire fighters because I don’t think we have a good handle of that yet,” said Dr. Susan Olivo-Marsten.

Local research being done at the Ohio State University is hoping to change that.

Dr. Olivo-Marsten is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Epidemiology at the College of Public Health at OSU. She is one of the leaders of a new study targeted at finding answers about the toxins causing cancer among firefighters. “We don’t know a lot specifically in Ohio. We know, anecdotally, as we are going out to the stations and talking to people is that they feel like they are seeing a big increase in firefighters being diagnosed with cancer.”

Through a two year grant, researches will be taking biological samples, such as blood and urine, of firefighters with cancer and without cancer. “Were going to measure it before when they have not been fighting a fire for several days and then we are going to measure it after they have been fighting a fire so we can compare those levels. We anticipate much of what is in the blood will be related to what they are exposed to but there may be some differences based on genetics as well,” said Dr. Olivo-Marsten.

Researchers are currently working with Columbus Fire, Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, Truro Township, Violet Township, and Liberty Township fire departments and could possibly add more if other fire departments are willing to take part in the study.

Firefighters are asked to fill out a questionnaire asking about a range of different things from how many fires they have been on, personal habits, to how many hours they spend a week in the fire truck or emergency vehicle. Researchers will also take samples from around the fire stations taking part in the study where they will test various elements such as dust particles to see what could be in the air.

Another important element to research is the fire gear. NBC4 reported to you last year that firefighter’s protective gear could be playing a role in causing firefighters cancer. The suit traps the toxins leaving those toxins to absorb into the skin. The research team will be taking wipes of gear in order to see what residue is left behind. Olivo-Marsten says this could help them in determining if an additional layer would be helpful in protecting against those toxins getting onto firefighters skin.

The team at OSU is still in need of firefighters to take part in the study in order for it to be successful. They’re looking for firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer within the last three years and also firefighters who have not been diagnosed. Any information collected in the research or given by firefighters will not be shared with the fire department of become a part of a personal file.  Those who participate in the survey will receive a gift card to Target. For more information or to be a part of the study go to or call 614-247-8123 provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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