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Wristbands Track Firefighter Exposure to Harmful Chemicals

Posted: June 9, 2022

Silicone wristband research helps determine on- and off-duty exposure to cancer-causing agents.

Recent research from Duke University involved firefighters wearing silicon wristbands on and off the job. The silicon absorbs any semi-volatile organic compounds the firefighters may have been exposed to.

The wristbands worn by firefighters were analyzed for 134 different chemical compounds, including phthalates, brominated flame retardants, organophosphate esters, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), all of which have been linked to increased incidence of certain cancers.

On duty versus off duty

  • In wristbands worn on duty, levels of PAH, brominated flame retardants and organophosphate esters were 0.5 to 8.5 times higher than in those worn while off duty.
  • Wristbands worn by firefighters on days they actively fought a fire contained 2.5 times more PFOS (a type of PFAS) than bands worn while off duty.
  • Wristbands worn on off-duty days contained higher levels of phthalates and pesticides.

The study demonstrated that silicone wristbands can be used to quantify occupational exposures for firefighters and distinguish these from non-occupational exposures. This is an important step in addressing the issue that, according to studies by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and other agencies, firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying from the disease than the general adult population.

Peer-reviewed findings from this study were published on April 26, 2022 in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

This article is based on content in the
June 9, 2022 InfoGram.

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