Fighting fires is both physically demanding and physiologically exhausting. Firefighters face serious on-the-job health risks. The exposure to toxic fire emissions has been compounded by wildfires… and the nature of wildfires is changing.
Climate change has created the perfect conditions for out-of-control wildfires, especially in the West. Now it’s almost always fire season. Scientists predicted this, and our brave firefighters are taking enormous health risks when protecting our families from wildfires.
Our latest resource: Firefighters, Climate Change, and Toxic Chemicals, highlights how the warming cycle creates dangerous wildfires now and in the future. An increase of heat and prolonged drought is a dangerous recipe for wildfires, making them more frequent, more intense, and more widespread than in the past.
The lasting effects of wildfires go beyond acres burned. Wildfires generate massive amounts of fine particles and other harmful air pollution. And changes in air quality seriously affect human health. While communities suffer greatly from asthma, heart attacks, and other health harms from breathing wildfire smoke, firefighters have unique exposures to dangerous levels of toxic, cancer-causing chemicals when fighting wildfires.
While the leading cause of firefighter fatalities is heart attacks, firefighters face heart disease from repeated exposure to a range of toxic chemicals, particulate matter, and extreme heat. The chemicals emitted during wildfires are also associated with high rates of cancer.
Firefighters are put at grave risk when flame retardants combine with other chemicals, creating a chemical cocktail that seeps into protective gear, penetrates masks, and causes breathing problems.
The EPA has the authority to regulate flame retardants under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). But this can be a slow process and an uphill political battle, as the American Chemical Council (ACC) has a financial stake in keeping flame retardants on the market.
Along with fighting for strong regulations for flame retardants, we must protect our firefighters by addressing one of the most significant underlying factors fueling out-of-control wildfires: climate change.
Please read Firefighters, Climate Change, and Toxic Chemicals fact sheet to learn more about protecting our firefighters.