Why do so many firefighters develop cancer

Cancer risk in the fire service

Running time: 01/2018 – 12/2020

Project abbreviation: IPA-143-HBM fire department

Descriptors: Working environment, hazardous substances, work-related health hazards, primary prevention

The aim of this project is to clarify whether, and if so, how much of the carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) used by fire fighters are absorbed through the skin of fire fighters.

Initial situation:
In Germany there are around 40,000 full-time and 1.3 million volunteer fire fighters. These are exposed to a multitude of hazards during their use. This study is intended to provide an insight into the real exposure situation of fire fighters and serve as a basis for adapting the Central Exposure Database (ZED). In addition, it is also important to minimize the contamination or its impact on the emergency services themselves. This project aims to help develop strategies and behaviors to achieve effective exposure avoidance in everyday operations. In the long term, this should prevent work-related cancer or cancer acquired through voluntary work.

Study design:
This study is designed as a cross-sectional study. For this purpose, the study participants are examined at a defined point in time in order to record the acute exposure to PAHs during real fire operations. The exposure to dioxins is measured as a parameter for the chronic exposure to carcinogenic hazardous substances. In addition, some emergency services will wear cotton underwear under personal protective equipment in order to detect contamination of the skin. After the use, the donated urine is examined for PAH metabolites. In total, the fire operations are divided into seven different scenarios. The exposure distribution within a scenario and between the scenarios is determined. A total of 250 fire fighters are examined.

In the project, strategies and behaviors in particular are to be developed or transferred to the field of fire brigades. The aim is to achieve effective exposure avoidance in everyday use. In the long term, this should prevent work-related cancer or cancer caused by voluntary work.


  • Department of fire brigades, assistance, fire protection (FB FHB) of the DGUV
  • Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the DGUV (IFA)
  • Safety and Health Department (SiGe) of the DGUV
  • Accident Insurance Baden-W├╝rttemberg
  • Accident Fund North Rhine-Westphalia
  • Accident Fund Berlin
  • Hanseatic Fire Brigade Accident Fund North
  • Fire department accident insurance center
  • Fire department accident fund Lower Saxony
  • Trade association RCI
  • BAU trade association
  • Hamburg fire brigade
  • Berlin fire brigade
  • Bremen fire brigade
  • Bochum fire brigade
  • German Fire Brigade Association V. (DFV)
  • Working Group of Heads of Professional Fire Brigades (AGBF)
  • Fire Brigade Association
  • Ver.di
  • Fire cancer gUG