New Hampshire Firefighter Raising Awareness of Cancer Risks

Fire Lt. Russ Osgood’s crusade to prevent firefighters from getting cancer began when the Portsmouth Fire Department lost two firefighters to cancer in late 2011 and early 2012, reports

“I never had cancer but I saw what Sarah (Fox) went through and I saw what Jeff (Bokum) went through,” Osgood said during an interview this week at Station 2.

Osgood believes — and a study released this fall by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health confirms — that cancer rates for firefighters are higher than the general population, sometimes dramatically so.

Working with the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire, Osgood and a small group of other firefighters have been speaking with groups of firefighters across the state to raise awareness about the cancer risks they face fighting fires.

“We’re seeing things where people with no family history who are young and all of a sudden they’re having some abdominal cancer or some other unusual cancer that you’d expect to see only in the chemical industry,” Osgood said. “That’s odd and that shouldn’t be happening, but it is and not just in New Hampshire but across the country.”

Osgood blames the increased rates of cancer on the chemicals they encounter while fighting fires, which firefighters 25 years ago for the most part didn’t see. It really became a problem when more and more companies started using plastics in a variety of home furnishings and products, he said.

“Anything that’s plastic is going to break down. It seems like it wouldn’t be that big a deal, but as it’s burning it’s outgassing all the chemical components,” Osgood said. “The fire is actually the gases burning, not the materials. The reality is the unburned stuff that’s coming off, that black smoke is laden with chemicals.”

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