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Fighting More Than Fire

Fighting More Than Fire is a three-part series looking at the hazards firefighters face long after the fire has been extinguished. Kate Wells talks with firefighters, medical experts and legislators about the health affects and related costs for dealing with occupational-related illnesses.

Rebecca Williams, for The Environment Report, talked with furniture manufacturers about the move to eliminate toxic fire retardants from common household home goods. 

Credit South Carolina National Guard

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan firefighters came in from across the state this week to rally in Lansing,  trying to force lawmakers to finally put some actual money in the First Responder's Fund.

It doesn't seem like it should be that hard, since the Legislature created that fund more than a year ago to cover firefighters who get job-related cancer.

flickr user The National Guard / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

This week we've been talking about the higher cancer risk that firefighters face.

And the good news about all this is that Michigan passed a new law this year, creating a fund to cover firefighters if they get certain kinds of cancer on the job.

But there are two problems.

First, female firefighters feel they're being unfairly left out, because while the law covers prostate and testicular cancer, it doesn't cover breast cancer.

Couches will flame retardants in them will still burn.
Mark H. Anbinder / Flickr

This week, we’re bringing you a series of stories about firefighters and cancer. Firefighters say they’re worried about getting exposed to certain kinds of toxic flame retardant chemicals. These chemicals are everywhere. They’re called polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs. Firefighters are exposed to these chemicals in the line of duty, but they aren’t the only ones exposed.

For decades, these chemicals have been added to the foam in our couches, our chairs, and the padding underneath our carpets.

But they don’t stay put.

flickr user The National Guard / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Firefighters have dangerous jobs. We all know that.

But a growing body of research suggests those dangers don’t go away once the flames are put out: several studies say firefighters have a significantly higher cancer risk, even when they’re young.